Ford and General Motors Sued for Unpaid Music Royalties

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  • Billboard reports that the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies have sued Ford and General Motors in Washington DC, claiming that the companies owe music royalties by failing to register in-vehicle media duplication devices.
  • Ford and General Motors utilize technology from Clarion and Denso that stores a CD’s audio on a hard drive for later playback, pulling identification information from Gracenote to display artist, album and song title info.

  • The AARC seeks statutory damages of $2,500 per device for three years, plus 50 percent, and attorneys’ fees.

The automotive industry has been working feverishly in recent years to stay ahead of infotainment advances, but in a suit filed by the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies, the AARC is claiming that Ford and General Motors have neglected to pay artists music royalties for the music stored on certain cars with technology from Clarion and Denso.

The suit claims that Ford and General Motors are running afoul of the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA), enacted by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

The legislation introduced a royalty for manufacturers of digital copying technologies and devices were required to pay in order to avoid litigation by songwriters and publishing companies. 

The AHRA’s definitions of “digital audio recording device” and “digital audio recording media” are crucial — and frankly, confusing — in order to understanding the implications of the Act.

There are hair’s-breadth distinctions between devices covered and not covered by the AHRA.

According the AHRA:

A “digital audio recording device” is any machine or device of a type commonly distributed to individuals for use by individuals, whether or not included with or as part of some other machine or device, the digital recording function of which is designed or marketed for the primary purpose of, and that is capable of, making a digital audio copied recording for private use.

The definition of “digital audio recording medium” is similar:

A “digital audio recording medium” is any material object in a form commonly distributed for use by individuals, that is primarily marketed or most commonly used by consumers for the purpose of making digital audio copied recordings by use of a digital audio recording device.

What appears to be important is not so much the device, but the implied intent of the device. For example, a CD-R recorder included as part of a personal computer isn’t covered as a digital recording device under the AHRA, because a PC or Mac was never expressly marketed or designed to make audio recordings.

On the other hand, the very same device, sold as a peripheral and marketed for the express purpose of making digital audio recordings, falls under Act’s definition of a recording device.

Today, DART royalties consist of payments made to the US Copyright Office for “blank CDs and personal audio devices, media centers, satellite radio devices, and car audio systems that have recording capabilities”, as stated by AARC, who distributes a majority of AHRA funds.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at