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CNN Accused of Using Hundreds of Songs Without Permission in New Lawsuit

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CNN is facing a $17 million lawsuit accusing it of using hundreds of songs in international broadcast segments without acquiring a license or paying the proper fees.

The lawsuit was filed by Freeplay Music, a production music library company with a catalog of over 50,000 songs to be licensed and used in everything from television broadcasts to advertisements to YouTube videos. According to the suit, obtained by Rolling Stone, several CNN outposts around the world — including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Chile — treated Freeplay’s library like “their own personal cookie jar,” allegedly using over 115 copyrighted works in over 280 segments over the past few years.

Accusing CNN of “willful copyright infringement,” the suit reads: “These are not minor uses. FPM’s production music library has been used to create and enhance the CNN brand in these segments, and to create the mood and feel that the International Parties aimed to convey. The Works often appear at the beginning of the segment and run throughout… [T]he licensing and payment requirements are clearly described on the FPM website. FPM placed CNN on notice of this infringement, but its letter was ignored.”

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FPM is notably being represented by Richard Busch, a lawyer who specializes in copyright infringement cases. He is best known for helping the Marvin Gaye estate successfully sue Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke over “Blurred Lines.”

“We have brought this case to protect the very valuable copyrights of Freeplay,” Busch tells Rolling Stone. “There are more than 120 copyrights involved in this case, and hundreds of alleged unauthorized uses. Everything we have to say at this time is set forth in the Complaint in detail.”

A rep for CNN also did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment. 

According to the suit, Freeplay uncovered the alleged infringement through its use of TuneStat, a tool used by record labels, publishers, and companies like Freeplay to scan TV broadcasts and online videos to detect uses of their music. Freeplay said it received two reports of CNN’s allegedly infringing activities, first in May 2022 and then again in November. 

Even with tech like TuneStat available, the lawsuit stresses how difficult it is to detect this kind of alleged infringement, considering how much content is out there on the internet. Comparing it to “finding a needle in a haystack,” the lawsuit suggests, “There are likely many other unauthorized uses that have not yet been discovered,” but finding them all “would be impossible.” 

As for specific numbers, Freeplay claimed CNN Philippines “unlawfully utilized and directly copied” at least 73 copywriter works in at least 169 videos; CNN Indonesia of using least 40 works in at least 91 videos; CNN Chile of using three works in at least 19 videos; and CNN-News18 in India of using at least two works in two videos. In most of these instances, Freeplay is seeking the maximum award of statutory damages for willful copyright infringement, which is $150,000 per infringed work.

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As Billboard notes, this is not the first time Freeplay has accused a major corporation of using their music without a license. Other copyright suits have been filed against the online retail company Alibaba, the guitar maker Gibson, and the Ford Motor Company. Ford ended up countersuing Freeplay, accusing them of “bait-and-switch” practices, falsely advertising its music as free, and then filing lawsuits. (This case was settled last year.)

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To that end, Freeplay’s new lawsuit against CNN extensively outlines the various places on the Freeplay website where it “clearly states that each of its songs… must be licensed” for commercial use. That includes a “Pricing” and “Shopping Cart” feature at the top of its website, as well as another shopping cart symbol beneath the “Licensing” column that appears when searching specific songs in the FPM library. 

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