Sweetwater Alleges its Content has been Plagiarized by More than 70 MI Retailers

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Upfront
• Created: January 12, 2015

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Sweetwater Sound, Inc. issued the following press release in early 2015 regarding alleged theft of the company’s intellectual property:

Sweetwater Sound Inc. continues to be victimized by the misappropriation of its proprietary intellectual property. Most recently, Sweetwater's web content has been pirated by many music retailers, including UniqueSquared, Music & Arts (owned by Guitar Center), Cascio Interstate Music, Island Music Company, ProAudioStar, Chicago Music Exchange, and more than 70 more, with the violations ranging from a few pages of content to as much as hundreds and even thousands of pages. In response to these infringing acts, Sweetwater has increased its efforts to defend itself and its intellectual property rights.

According to Sweetwater Founder and President, Chuck Surack, "It's shameful that, in this industry I love, there are so many unscrupulous individuals and companies. We hear constantly how musicians, companies, and our industry are damaged by music piracy and illegal software and plug-in downloads, yet there seems to be no hesitation on the part of many retailers in our industry to take proprietary web content. At Sweetwater, we invest a great deal into creating unique, valuable content for, and to have it blatantly plagiarized and reposted on another retailer's site, often word-for-word, is truly disheartening. As much as we dislike having to take action, we simply cannot sit by while our property is taken and misused."

In the first such case, it was discovered that Chicago Music Exchange had been illegally copying's content. In February 2014, this case was resolved with a letter of apology from Chicago Music Exchange President David Kalt, which included assurances that all misused content had been removed from its website and that no Sweetwater content would be misappropriated in the future.

Since then, Sweetwater has taken action after finding text on more than 70 other offending retailers' sites that have copied from Mike Clem, Vice President of E-Commerce at Sweetwater, commented, "It's amazing to me. In many cases they don't even bother to remove references to 'Sweetwater' or to 'Sales Engineers,' which obviously come straight from our site. We've even found examples where they've left in 'Contact your Sweetwater Sales Engineer for more information or to make your purchase!"

The owners of the guilty sites have sometimes tried to pin the blame on lazy or irresponsible employees or even subcontractors taking the easy way out by copying Sweetwater’s content. And it may be true that an employee or subcontractor is actually at fault. However, this does not excuse the owner or manager from responsibility or limit the liability of the employer for the consequences of an employee’s actions. Sweetwater has also heard claims that the copying was “an honest mistake,” which is clearly indefensible; there is no way to “honestly” take someone else's property.

Some companies, for example UniqueSquared, ProAudioStar, Great Guitar Shop, and Cascio Interstate Music, ignore Sweetwater’s initial requests to have infringing content removed. In these cases, Sweetwater contacts the company’s internet service provider (“ISP”) who will often shut down a website for engaging in copyright infringement. In such cases, the companies suddenly responded to Sweetwater’s requests. In one instance, Great Guitar Shop’s entire website was shut down by its ISP, after Great Guitar Shop ignored Sweetwater’s repeated efforts to communicate with Great Guitar Shop directly. Basically, Sweetwater asks infringing parties to take down the pirated content, to sign a document of admission and compliance, and to reimburse Sweetwater for legal costs. When a company, such as Island Music, quickly complies with Sweetwater’s terms, the matter is closed.

However, where Sweetwater’s notices are ignored or reasonable settlement terms are not met, no recourse exists except legal action. Sweetwater’s attorneys have commented, “Copyright infringement is a very serious matter. Infringement of a federally registered copyright can result in statutory damages of at least $750 per incident and as much as $150,000 per incident (plus attorney fees) for willful infringement.” Sweetwater truly regrets having to go that far, but it does so in support of all online retailers who invest in unique content. This really is about the integrity of the music business as a whole.

MMR first reported on this issue in February on 2014

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