Music publishing company Wixen has sued Pandora for displaying lyrics from Wixen artists — who include Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, and Weezer. Wixen’s suit claims that the internet radio service knowingly used the lyrics “without any valid license or authorization.” It’s the second major lawsuit that Wixen has recently filed against a streaming music company, following a now-settled $1.6 billion lawsuit against Spotify.
As explained on its website, Pandora shows lyrics beneath some songs on both mobile and desktop. It’s done so since 2009, partnering with licensing companies like LyricFind for the rights. But Wixen says those rights didn’t include its clients’ work. It alleges that Pandora knew about this, in part because Wixen apparently notified the company in early 2018. While the complaint states that Pandora did take some of the lyrics down last month, it calls the delay a sign of “willful and deliberate” copyright infringement.
Wixen previously sued Spotify over the complicated issue of “mechanical licenses,” based on a convoluted legal framework that’s since been changed. But lyrics licensing is a separate issue. The Pandora suit claims infringement over roughly 100 songs, including Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” and Tom Petty’s “It’s Good to be King” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
If Wixen prevails in this suit, the company could seek damages of up to $150,000 per song. Pandora’s parent company Sirius XM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. LyricFind, which is not a party to the lawsuit, also didn’t immediately confirm the songs’ licensing status.
Lyric sites like Genius have skirmished with publishers over the past several years; Genius suggested that the reprints could be defended as fair use but ultimately struck deals with record labels. In turn, Genius recently accused Google of “stealing” its lyrics, based on a watermarking pattern that spelled out “red handed” in Morse code. It’s not clear that this actually matters legally, however, since both sites pay licensing fees and neither owns the song rights. By contrast, this allegation against Pandora — that it simply doesn’t have a licensing deal with Wixen — is a more straightforward copyright infringement question.