National Music Publishers Association Beats Defamation Claim Over Lawsuit Announcement

Wolfgang’s Vault, a website of concert performances, strikes out in a countersuit against music publishers.
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The Rolling Stones

Small exaggerations can't transform a press release touting a lawsuit into a defamatory statement. So rules New York federal judge Edgardo Ramos, addressing an alert sent out in May 2015 by the National Music Publishers Association.

That month, the trade group told journalists that a copyright infringement lawsuit was being filed against Wolfgang's Vault, a website that offers on-demand streams of concerts. In reaction, Wolfgang's Vault brought counterclaims that accused the NMPA and its president David Israelite of "a transparent effort first to destroy the Defendants' business, and later, to force Defendants to choose between depriving the music-loving public of their inimitable collection, or selling the assets to its member publishers at a steep discount."

The press release was headlined, "NMPA Files Lawsuit Against Wolfgang's Vault for Massive Copyright Infringement," but in actually, it was NMPA members, not the NMPA itself, that was suing.

No matter.

Judge Ramos ruled on Friday that such a statement "does not ... add legitimacy or imply any more serious conduct than alleged, given that NMPA was admittedly 'masterminding' the lawsuit." 

What's more, the content of the press release is deemed to be privileged as a "fair and true report." 

The NMPA made the statement, "Systematic copyright infringement cannot be a business model, and it is unfortunate that Wolfgang’s Vault chose not to compensate all of the creators responsible for their content."

Wolfgang’s Vault, run by William Sagan and housing a collection of performances by The Rolling Stones, James Taylor, The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, R.E.M. and many others, claimed that by such words, the NMPA was either saying or implying that its entire catalog of recordings is unlicensed and infringing, compared to the actual lawsuit, which merely listed 206 infringed copyrights and 800 separate acts of infringement.

The judge doesn't agree the press release carries such implication, pointing to other clarifying language in the press release as well as "a more natural reading" that some creators may have been compensated, but not "all."  He adds that even if the press release included such an implication, it would "constitute an exaggeration only of degree, not of kind," and would remain privileged.

Here's the full opinion.

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