Several members of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) have collectively filed a lawsuit against fitness startup Peloton today, seeking over $150 million in damages. The complaint, filed by Downtown Music Publishing, Ultra Music, and eight other publishing groups, says that Peloton has been using their musical works for years in its workout videos without proper licensing, resulting in income lost for songwriters.
The complaint says that Peloton does have some licenses in place with other labels and publishers, but not with the plaintiffs named in this suit. It alleges that Peloton has “used more than 1,000 musical works owned or administered by Plaintiffs over a period of years in the videos that it makes available to its hundreds of thousands of customers without a synchronization (or “sync”) license.” In one instance, the company allegedly “obtained a license for a limited time but then let that license expire, while continuing to use Ultra’s copyrighted works.”
Peloton’s workout videos are broadcast to Peloton bikes and treadmills across the world, usually accompanied by a playlist of songs to guide the workout. The company also offers a digital subscription to its video classes for those who want to exercise with their own non-Peloton equipment.
The effect is similar to an in-person gym class, but music heard in a video requires a different license. Playing music in the open for people to hear, like in a gym, requires a public performance license. But if you are watching that same class as a video from your Peloton at home, that music now requires what is called a sync license, because the music is synchronized with visual media output.
Some of the works the complaint says Peloton is using without proper licensing include “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Only Girl” by Rihanna, “Drip” by Migos and Cardi B, and “Bangarang” by Skrillex and Sirah, as listed in the complaint.
“Music is a core part of the Peloton business model and is responsible for much of the brand’s swift success,” said NMPA president and CEO David Israelite said in a statement. “Thousands of exclusive videos and playlists are a major reason hundreds of thousands of people have purchased Peloton products.”
Reached by The Verge, Peloton emphasized that it has an extensive licensing system and has partnered with a number of music-industry groups. “We just received the complaint this morning, and we are evaluating it,” a representative from Peloton told The Verge. “Peloton has great respect for songwriters and artists. In fact, we have partnered with each of the major music publishers, record labels and performing rights organizations, and many leading independents. We have also invested heavily to build a best-in-breed reporting and licensing system to support our partners and provide our members with a world-class fitness experience.”
The NMPA alleges that these infringements by Peloton have been occurring since 2014, when it launched at-home streaming on its machines. The company is currently valued at $4 billion and, according to The Wall Street Journal, is making steps toward an IPO this year.