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US copying levy collector sues car makers

By | Published on Wednesday 30 July 2014


So, America’s Alliance Of Artists And Recording Companies. Remember them right? No, me neither. But it’s an organisation that exists to collect, distribute and administer royalties generated by the copying levies that are applied in some jurisdictions on products that allow users to make copies of copyright works.

Sometimes these levies are a kickback in the copyright system in return for the ‘private copy’ exemption that says people can make back up copies of recordings for their own personal use. Other times the levies are more the result of deals to ensure the makers of copying kit can’t be found liable for contributory infringement if and when their technology is used by others to infringe.

On its website the AARC says it “provides a music royalty, generated by the sales of automobile infotainment systems, blank CDs, personal audio devices, media centers, and satellite radio devices that have music recording capabilities, to its 300,000+ members worldwide”. So that’s fun.

It’s the first of those royalty generating things that has brought the AARC into the news, because the royalties group is in dispute with the car industry in America. It claims that Ford and General Motors are in breach of the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act by placing hard drives in their cars that, amongst other things, allow users to rip music onto the disk for in-car enjoyment, without paying a levy to the AARC.

The not-much-talked-about-these-days Audio Home Recording Act is the bit of American legislation that introduced some copying levies into the US copyright system. Though a court case in the late 1990s limited the reach of the Act somewhat, by saying the rules did not apply to the makers of MP3 players because they were hard disks able to store other software, and were therefore exempt from the levy system. It’s that ruling that Ford and GM are likely to rely on if this case gets to court.

But, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the AARC says in its litigation: “Defendants have violated and continue to violate the AHRA by manufacturing or importing and distributing digital audio recording devices without complying with the AHRA”.

It goes on: “Defendants distribute these devices either pre-installed in vehicles or intended for use in vehicles. Defendants designed these devices for the express purpose of copying music CDs and other digital musical recordings to a hard drive on the devices, and they market these devices emphasising that copying function”.

The royalties group wants an injunction stopping the distribution of the allegedly offended in-car disk systems, and damages for every one sold in recent years. $2500 per vehicle in fact.