Nashville, TN (September 17, 2009)--Ellen DeGeneres could be dancing to a different tune if several major record labels get their day in court.
Labels including Arista, Atlantic Recording Corp., Capitol Records, Motown Records, Sony and Warner Bros. Records have jointly filed suit in Nashville's U.S. District Court alleging that producers of The Ellen DeGeneres Show played "well over one thousand sound recordings" without paying licensing fees. Producers of the Emmy Award-winning show reportedly obtained clearances from song publishers--the synchronization rights--but did not apply for the master rights from the labels, as also required.
The suit alleges that the defendants responded that they didn't "roll that way" when asked why they had failed to obtain permission to use the songs. "As sophisticated consumers of music, Defendants knew full well that, regardless of the way they rolled, under the Copyright Act, and under state law for the pre-1972 recordings, they needed a license to use the sound recordings lawfully," notes the suit.
The labels' suit alleges that the show has been using unlicensed copyrighted music since going on the air in 2003, including "recordings by virtually every major current artist of popular music." The tunes, played during the daytime talk show host's introductory "dance over" segment, reportedly include such songs as Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Outkast's "Hey Ya," Kanye West's "Stronger" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." In the suit, the labels state that they do not license for daytime television at any price.
DeGeneres, who was recently announced as the fourth judge on American Idol, is not personally named in the suit, which does not specify the dollar amount being sought in damages. A spokesman for associate producer Telepictures Productions, Scott Rowe, reportedly wrote in an emailed statement that the company has in recent months been working to resolve the issue and remains open to reaching "amicable and reasonable terms" with the labels.
According to a report in the NY Post, the collective suit may be a negotiation ploy by some of the labels, as show producers are said to have reached a settlement with at least one label independently. A NY Post source believes one of the labels to have reached an agreement is Warner Music. The Ellen DeGeneres Show is distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.