Many of you reading the headline will be eagerly hoping this is in fact the case, and the dreaded karaoke is gone. Karaoke, or “empty orchestra” as translated in Japanese, has been fairly widely available in the United States since at least the 1990s.
The Hollywood Reporter recently published a story on the fight between karaoke company KTS Karaoke and Sony/ATS (a joint venture that is partially owned by the estate of Michael Jackson). It seems Sony/ATS is suing KTS in federal district court for “willful copyright infringement.” Sony/ATS is demanding damages, an injunction, and a recall of KTS’ products so they can be destroyed.
Copyright is an intellectual property concept which generally gives the holder of the copyright exclusive rights to an original work, for a limited period of time. In the music world, this generally means that money needs to be paid for the use of original music or songs. Sony/ATS’ lawsuit alleges that the use of original music in karaoke as the background score requires a license, as does the use of the song composition. It also alleges that performance of an original song in public via karaoke requires payment. By Sony/ATS’ calculations, KTS owes $1.28 billion in damages.
One of KTS’ arguments is that the company is not infringing on any rights as it purchases songs that are re-recorded by other musicians, and thus it is those musicians who are arguably responsible for any royalties. KTS has also filed its own lawsuit against Sony/ATS, claiming that the latter has committed copyright misuse by attempting to collect multiple awards on a single product from the upstream producer, the downstream producer (the bars and restaurants with karaoke), and KTS, the packager/distributor.