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Music Publishers Sue Companies Providing Mixtapes for Prisoners

In early 2015, UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Universal Music Corp. and several other record labels and music producers filed a federal lawsuit against companies that provide mixtapes to prisoners in at least 40 states. The suit claimed that mixtapes contained in “care packages” purchased from the companies by prisoners or their families resulted in copyright infringement.

As defined by the music producers, “Mixtapes are a form of recorded music in which DJs combine (or ‘mix’) tracks, often recorded by different artists, onto a single CD, sometimes creating overlaps and fades between songs, and/or reflecting a common theme or mood.” The plaintiffs alleged that mixtapes are “frequently a cover for piracy” unless authorized by the copyright holder, and that the companies did not have authorization.

The defendants in the case included the Centric Group, the Keefe Group, Keefe Commissary Network, Access Catalog Company, Access Securepak and Ari’s Mixtapes.

The music producers argued that the companies used mixtapes as “door openers” to promote the sale of other items from their catalogs, and sometimes even sold them at a financial loss; i.e., as “loss leaders.” The mixtapes included such legendary artists as James Brown, The Jackson Five, Eminem, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and LL Cool J.

Filed on January 6, 2015, the lawsuit sought $150,000 in damages for each mixtape song that resulted in copyright infringement, and also included state law unfair competition claims.

The case settled under undisclosed terms in December 2015; the plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Jeffery D. Goldman and Whitney E. Fair with the Los Angeles law firm of Jeffer, Mangles, Butler & Mitchell, LLP. See: UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Centric Group, LLC, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:15-cv-00096-MMM-MRW.

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Related legal case

UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Centric Group, LLC