Sony Music has sued hotel company Marriott over its use of music in social media posts. 

Recordings released by the major - including hits by Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Harry Styles - have appeared, allegedly without licence, in videos promoting the company's various hotel brands. Some of those videos were created by Marriott marketing teams directly, others by companies operating hotels using Marriott brands under licence, and others by influencers paid by the Marriott company. 

Sony says it has filed its lawsuit “to stop Marriott’s rampant infringement of Sony Music’s valuable copyrights in some of the most popular sound recordings in the world and to recover damages for Marriott’s wilful conduct”. 

Although social media and short form video platforms like Instagram and TikTok have licences with the music industry (short-term bust ups permitting), those licences only usually cover non-commercial use of music against content - so typically videos uploaded by individuals that include music. Brands that use music in videos they upload to these platforms need to negotiate sync deals with relevant record labels and music publishers, unless they are using music that has explicitly been pre-cleared for this sort of commercial use.

Marriott's competitors understand this, says Sony in its lawsuit. “Companies pay substantial sums to use popular Sony Music sound recordings in digital advertising content, including in videos posted by paid influencers, on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and other digital platforms”, it explains.

“Sony Music has licensing agreements with many types of companies including with various hospitality companies that compete with Marriott and with companies in related markets”, it goes on. These agreements “often including the right to use Sony Music’s content on the internet and on social media”. 

The majors have previously gone legal against brands which use music in videos across social platforms in a commercial context without a licence. 

The US courts have generally confirmed that licences are required for brand-created content. However, when it comes to influencer-created content - where the content has been created as part of a deal between an influencer and a brand - there has been a little more debate around the liabilities of the brands which pay the influencers where copyrights have been infringed. That often comes down to the control the brand does or does not have over content created by the influencers they collaborate with.  

In the influencer videos, Sony's lawsuit continues, “Marriott has the right and ability to control the infringement as it has the right to review, approve and/or require removal of Marriott influencer videos. Despite this, Marriott has continued to allow its influencers to post infringing videos”. 

Sony says it first notified Marriott about the infringement back in 2020, and “since that time, Sony Music has continued to give Marriott notice of its continuing infringing conduct on multiple occasions, including most recently on 22 Mar 2024”. 

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