UMG, Sony and Capitol sue Internet Archive over ‘Great 78 Project’

UMG, Sony, Capitol and other major labels have sued the Internet Archive and its founder, Brewster Kahle, over the ‘Great 78 Project’.

The project is an initiative that is aimed to preserve and provide free access to pre-1972 musical works from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Internet Archive describes it as a hub for “the preservation, research and discovery of 78rpm records”.

In the lawsuit filed on August 11, the labels claim that the project violates copyright laws by stating “transferring copies of those files to members of the public, Internet Archive has reproduced and distributed without authorization Plaintiffs’ protected sound recordings”.


The plaintiffs, who also include Arista Music, Concord Bicycle Assets and CMGI Recorded Music Assets, are seeking damages of up to $150,000 per infringed track. The labels, who own either full or partial copyrights to the music in the collection, have alleged that the recordings were illegally distributed to Internet Archive users “millions of times”.

Woman on floor playing records - stock photo. Credit: GETTY
Woman on floor playing records – stock photo. Credit: GETTY

According to the complaint, “Defendants attempt to defend their wholesale theft of generations of music under the guise of ‘preservation and research,’ but this is a smokescreen: their activities far exceed those limited purposes. Internet Archive unabashedly seeks to provide free and unlimited access to music for everyone, regardless of copyright.”

The suit further alleges: “In truth, Defendants’ malfeasance springs from their disregard for copyright law and the rights of artists and content owners. Internet Archive and the other Defendants have a long history of opposing, fighting, and ignoring copyright law, proclaiming that their zealotry serves the public good. In reality, Defendants are nothing more than mass infringers.”

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) weighed in on the suit in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The record company Plaintiffs bring this case to address Defendants’ industrial scale infringement of some of the most iconic recordings ever made – including classic works by Frank Sinatra, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and many more,” the statement read.

“Congress took decisive action to protect pre-1972 recordings in the Music Modernization Act. Defendants’ mass scale copying, streaming and distribution of the thousands of pre-1972 recordings identified in the complaint — all of which are commercially available on multiple legitimate streaming services — are blatant violations of those established rights. Just as Internet Archive’s supposed ‘emergency library’ of copyrighted books was recently ruled unlawful by a federal judge, its ‘Great 78’ project is yet another mass infringement scheme that has no basis in law.”


This is not the first time the Internet Archive finds itself in hot water. Back in March, the nonprofit was sued by several major book publishers for scanning and lending digital copies of copyrighted books. As per NPR, a judge ruled in favor of the book publishers. Internet Archive plans to appeal.