Universal Music Might Be Eyeing Lawsuit Against American Airlines

The record industry appears to be going to war against the airline industry over in-flight music

American Airlines is buckling up to defend a copyright lawsuit that could come as soon as next month from Universal Music Group. On Friday, attorneys for the airline told a Texas judge that it anticipates being a defendant when a "standstill agreement" with the record giant expires on November 10. The latest court documents signal a possible coordinated attack by the music industry to gain more income from the largest airline carriers in the country.

Late last year, Sony sued United Airlines and its contractors, which offered the prospect of a complex copyright fight over international flights. The defendants asserted that they had license to publicly perform music from an authorized Irish collecting society for record labels, but before a judge weighed in on whether the licenses were still valid when airlines left Ireland, the case was settled. Or, close to settling. Attorneys in that case told a New York judge this week that they were still finalizing the details of the agreement.

Meanwhile, as Sony took on United, UMG appears to have been eyeing American.

In May, UMG filed a lawsuit in California against Global Eagle Entertainment and Inflight Productions for allegedly reproducing, distributing, publicly performing sound recordings, music videos and musical compositions including those by Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Weezer and Kanye West. The complaint alleged that the defendants were "working in concert with various airlines" without identifying them.

However, according to court documents filed today by American, "UMG has threatened to add American to the California Action," and while it has not done so yet, in August, the two sides agreed they would not initiate litigation against each other until September 12, which was thereafter extended until November 10.

Now, American reports getting a subpoena from UMG's offices containing "17 sweeping requests for documents going back 10 years," mostly demands for its agreements and communications with Global Eagle, but also documents reflecting playlists that might have resulted from using that contractor.

"Given the overbreadth of its Requests, and the demand for irrelevant, confidential commercial and/or privileged information and dealings with others, UMG's strategy is clearly to obtain discovery of American prior to filing a lawsuit against American," the airline giant tells the judge. "This is misuse of the third-party subpoena power and, for this additional reason, this Court should quash the Subpoena."

We've reached out to UMG for comment and will update with any response.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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