Pharrell Williams & Smokey Robinson’s Lawyer Threatens Billion Dollar Lawsuit Against YouTube

There is a legal war brewing between video site YouTube and licensing management company Global Music Rights headed by Irving Azoff. The dispute is over the performance rights for 20,000 songs by GMR represented acts like Pharrell Williams, John Lennon, and more.

Azoff has informed YouTube that it lacks performance rights for these 20,000 songs — including ones by Smokey Robinson, Chris Cornell, and George and Ira Gershwin. Since November, when YouTube announced the coming launch of a subscription service to compete with Spotify and Pandora, Azoff has kept up the pressure to license, but Google isn’t backing down.

That’s quite upsetting to Azoff, who is prepared to launch an all-out legal war if negotiations don’t prove fruitful and if YouTube refuses to remove the works. Why YouTube and not, say, Spotify? “Because they are the ones that have been least cooperative and the company our clients feel are the worst offenders,” Azoff tells The Hollywood Reporter.  “It’s also their attitude.”

GMR attorney Howard King and Google (YouTube’s parent company) lawyer David Kramer have exchanged emails over the issue. King accused YouTube of ignoring take down notices from Global and alleged the site does not have legal agreements to use licensed songs, specifically for the new streaming service Music Key.

Kramer responded by accusing GMR of three attempts to go around the notice-and-take down process established by the U.S. Congress’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). According to Kramer, the DMCA requires GMR to send individual take down notices with a url for each song violation. That would total likely hundreds of thousands of videos on the site.

“This will result in someone blinking, and if it is not them, there will be a billion-dollar copyright infringement lawsuit filed,” said King.