Composer sues Ford for copyright infringement, claims automaker used songs without OK

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

On dozens of occasions, Ford Motor Co. illicitly used songs from a digital music catalog owned by a prominent composer, according to a federal lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday on behalf of Freeplay Music LLC, alleges that the Dearborn automaker used 54 songs to which FPM owns the copyright, in at least 74 promotional and video advertisements over the course of several years — without paying FPM for the right to use them.

In this Sunday, April 5, 2020, photograph, the blue oval sign stands over a Ford dealership in Denver.

"This is an action for willful copyright infringement by a multibillion dollar company too cheap to secure licensing before commercially using registered works owned by another company," says the lawsuit filed by Howard Hertz and Richard Busch on behalf of FPM.

Arguing it has lost profits and licensing fees, FPM is seeking the maximum amount of damages allowed for willful copyright infringement under the Copyright Act: $150,000 per infringement, an amount the plaintiff deems necessary because anything less "would not get the attention of a multibillion dollar corporation that continues to commit widespread infringement."

In total, the plaintiff estimates damages could total at least $8.1 million. Through a spokeswoman, Ford declined to comment on pending litigation.

New York-based FPM, an online library of more than 50,000 works, is owned by Scott Schreer, described in the filing as "one of America's most prolific and performed TV composers and producers." Among numerous other credits, Schreer wrote the NFL on Fox theme song.

Hertz, whose Hertz Schram PC firm is based in Bloomfield Hills, is a well-known entertainment lawyer who over several decades has represented many high-profile clients, including record labels, songwriters, and recording artists. Busch, a principal at King & Ballow Entertainment Law in Nashville, has litigated a number of copyright infringement cases, including one in which he successfully represented Marvin Gaye's estate against the creators of the song "Blurred Lines."

FPM tracked down instances of copyright infringement using Schreer's software platform, TuneSat, which found Ford had used FPM's copyrighted works in at least 74 different videos and ads, according to the filing. TuneSat notified Ford of its unauthorized use of FPM's work starting in April 2017, at which point Ford "was unable to provide proof of licensing." FPM claims Ford continued to use songs without permission, until as recently as Thursday.

"Finding these infringements is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. (Ford) apparently counted on the difficulty of being caught in deciding to engage in this massive willful copyright infringement," attorneys wrote.

Further, the filing states that FPM's website clearly spells out the requirement to obtain licensing, as well as the fees it charges.

FPM has requested a jury trial. Additionally, FPM is seeking an award of attorneys' fees and costs, interest, and a permanent injunction "prohibiting future infringement, reproduction, distribution, sale, public performance, other use, or exploitation of FPM's registered works."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski