Ford and GM sued for millions over CD-ripping tech in cars

The lawsuit calls for punitive damages equal to $2,500 per CD-R player installed

The copyright protection arm of the U.S. music industry is suing Ford and GM because the companies sold cars with CD players that can rip music to the vehicle's hard drive.

The Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies (AARC), a non-profit group representing more then 300,000 artists, filed the suit against the car companies and their infotainment system tech suppliers, Denso and Clarion.

The lawsuit calls out a feature in Ford vehicles called Jukebox, which records songs from CDs to the infotainment system's hard drive. The Jukebox function has been available on Ford vehicles since at least the 2011 model year.

For example, the owner's manual explains, "Your mobile media navigation system has a Jukebox which allows you to save desired tracks or CDs to the hard drive for later access. The hard drive can store up to 10GB (164 hours; approximately 2,472 tracks) of music."

The lawsuit also cites GM's Hard Drive Device, made by Denso, which can rip music and has been available on numerous models since at least 2011.

The suit seeks millions of dollars to be paid by each of the companies for violating the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. The Act protects against distributing digital audio recording devices whose primary purpose is to rip copyrighted material.

For example, a CD-R player in a personal computer is not considered a violation under the Act because the computer was not marketed as a musical recording device.

The "defendants designed these devices for the express purpose of copying music CDs and other digital recordings to a hard drive on the devices, and they market these devices emphasizing that copying function," the AARC argues (download PDF).

In its filing, the AARC claims the "multi-billion dollar companies" are protected by the AARC as long as they incorporate certain copying control technology and pay "a modest royalty per device."

The automakers, however, have yet to pay royalties to the music industry in conjunction with marketing the CD-R technology in their vehicles, the AARC said.

In a statement, Ford said, "We believe we fully comply with all of our contracts. We are currently exploring the case and have nothing further to share at this time."

GM could not be reached.

Cadillac SRX
The Cadillac SRX's infotainment system has a CD-R player that can record music to the system's internal hard drive (Image: GM).

News of the lawsuit, first reported by TorrentFreak, focused on the fact that Ford and GM have for years sold a variety of models with CD players that rip songs to the vehicle's hard drive. The models include the Lincoln MKS, Ford Taurus, Ford Explorer, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Volt, and GMC Terrain.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. on Friday, seeks injunctive relief and damages equal to $2,500 for each digital audio recording device installed in a vehicle.

The damages were calculated as the unpaid royalties over the past three years, as well as an additional amount equal to 50% of the actual damages to be paid to the artists who registered their copyrights.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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