Fans of a Californian Heavy Metal band have been astonished to find themselves on the receiving end of legal action around the group’s songs – with the band’s members and label claiming to have no knowledge of who is behind it.
The case concerns a lawsuit filed in the District Court for the Middle District of Florida by the Panama-based World Digital Rights, who claim to own the online licence to the album, This Is Where It Ends, by the cheerfully named All Shall Perish. In its legal papers, the company stated that it was the sole licensee authorised to distribute the album’s songs in digital versions – and asked for $150,000 (£92,500) in damages, plus costs, from each of around 100 fans that it claimed had accessed the material illegally.
Although World Digital Rights has filed against the fans on a ‘John Doe’ basis – temporarily using their online aliases – it said that it is actively pursuing their real identities to bring about their collective prosecution. The lawsuit lists some 80 IP addresses that the company has ascertained as having participated in a BitTorrent ‘swarm’ – or cluster of file-sharing users – in which the album’s songs were exchanged. According to the lawsuit, ‘Each defendant participated in [the] swarm by directly interacting and communicating with other members through digital handshakes.’
World Digital Rights claims that it tracked the John Does with the aid of ‘hashes’ – unique identifiers that the BitTorrent applications on users’ computers assign to song files. According to the lawsuit, All Shall Perish’s record company – German independent label Nuclear Blast – signed over digital rights to This Is Where It Ends on 12 March 2012: an arrangement that made the Panama company the album’s ‘exclusive licensee’. But, as fans weighed in with negative feedback about the lawsuit on online forums, All Shall Perish manager Ryan Downey explained that neither he, the band nor the label were aware of the 12 March deal.
‘The band wasn’t consulted whatsoever,’ he said, ‘and none of us have ever heard of this company. I spoke to the US label manager and German label president who both are as confused as we are. We are digging deeper and looking into the legality of it all.’ Downey went on to speculate that World Digital Rights could be either a sublicensor of a known Nuclear Blast licensee, or a digital music aggregator – a service that accumulates music files and then sells them on in batches to distributors such as Amazon or iTunes.
Despite the mystery at the heart of the case, it has served to provide three, valuable lessons on managing IP in online content: i) in a dynamic landscape, always keep track of where digital rights in any product reside; ii) never allow licensees to sublicense material without consultation, and iii) keep all relevant parties in the loop about the structure of licensing agreements.