Popular video game developer Roblox Corporation is being sued by the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) for $200 million. The suit alleges that Roblox enabled the infringement of NMPA members’ copyrights.
The video game allows its users to build and play games with other Roblox users. It also allows its users to upload custom music for a fee, which is when many of its users upload copyrighted materials. Though the game does advise its users to refrain from uploading copyrighted material and established a procedure in 2018 for removing copyrighted audio, many of its users have found ways to get around the algorithm that checks for copyrighted materials by “bypassing audio.” A piece by the New York Times details bypassing audio as “a technique where people distort or disguise an audio file so it slips through the detection systems meant to filter out offensive language and copyrighted tracks. (Methods include layering a song 32 times so the lyrics become deafening and indecipherable, or purposely raising or lowering its pitch so it sounds incoherent to moderators, before readjusting it in the game.)”
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are numerous and include labels such as ABKCO Music & Records, Big Machine Records, deadmau5, Kobalt Music Group, MPL Music Publishing, Reservoir Media Management and Spirit Music Group. As reported by Variety, NMPA seeks monetary damages for “Roblox’s unabashed exploitation of music without proper licenses.” NMPA CEO David Israelite accused Roblox Corporation of exploiting its users by taking “hundreds of millions of dollars by requiring users to pay every time they upload music onto the platform—taking advantage of young people’s lack of understanding about copyright—and then they take virtually no action to prevent repeat infringement or alert users to the risks they are taking.”
Indeed, Roblox’s primary demographic is under 16. Reporting done by the New York Times showed that as of July 2020, there were about 164 million Roblox users and half of all American children are playing Roblox.
Roblox responded to the lawsuit on June 10, stating “As a platform powered by a community of creators, we are passionate about protecting intellectual property rights – from independent artists and songwriters, to music labels and publishers – and require all Roblox community members to abide by our Community Rules. We do not tolerate copyright infringement, which is why we use industry-leading, advanced filtering technology to detect and prohibit unauthorized recordings.” Warner Music Group, as of January 2021, holds a multi-million dollar stake in Roblox.