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Publishers win $189,500 in damages at conclusion of Wolfgang’s Vault litigation

By | Published on Monday 23 March 2020

National Music Publishers Association

The music publishers which successfully sued concert streaming service Wolfgang’s Vault have won $189,500 in damages. Which, given the number of songs listed in the lawsuit – and some other recent copyright infringement judgements in the US – isn’t actually very much money at all. And that’s something a legal rep for the publishers has noted.

Launched in 2003, Wolfgang’s Vault began life as an archive of concert recordings previously owned by promoter Bill Graham, although it later expanded its content sources. As that happened, and the channels through which the firm disseminated and monetised the live recordings expanded too, the company became somewhat controversial in music circles.

Various legal challenges were made, with the National Music Publishers Association pursuing a lawsuit on behalf of various publishers, including all the majors, back in 2015. The publishers then prevailed in that lawsuit in 2018, with the court rejecting various excuses that had been presented by Wolfgang’s Vault for why it shouldn’t be held liable for infringement. At the time NMPA boss David Israelite called that ruling “a dramatic vindication for our members”.

Although that ruling came nearly two years ago, damages were still to be set. Statutory damages were claimed by the publishers which means, under US copyright law, the music companies could have been awarded up to $150,000 per song if the infringement was deemed “wilful”. If it wasn’t wilful, the cap for damages is $30,000 per song.

However, unusually for this type of case, the jury charged with the task of setting damages went for something much lower. In all, 197 songs were listed in the lawsuit and, it was decided, all but 30 were wilfully infringed. But, for each wilful infringement, damages were set at $1000. For the other 30, damages of $750 per work were awarded.

Responding to that decision, a legal rep for the publishers said the level of damages awarded was “disappointing”. He then added that pressure put on the US legal system by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis could have had an impact.

Barry Slotnick of Loeb & Loeb LLP told Law360: “We believe the current public health crisis contributed to a rushed verdict, and we are considering post-trial motion and appeal options”.