Universal Sues Companies Selling Mixtapes in Prison

The music giant is seeking $150,000 per song it claims was illegally distributed

Universal Music Group has targeted companies that they say are distributing illegal, unlicensed mixtapes to prisoners. Credit: Getty

Universal Music Group has filed a lawsuit against two companies its lawyers claim are distributing illegal mixtapes to prisoners. The company Centric Group and its subsidiary Keefe Group both distribute products in addition to music, like food and deodorant, to correctional facilities. The label – which cites unlicensed recordings by James Brown, Eminem and Stevie Wonder, among others, in its lawsuit – is seeking $150,000 per allegedly illegally distributed song it claims the companies have distributed, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Although the lawsuit acknowledges the existence of licensed mixtapes, it says they are "frequently a cover for piracy." It alleged that the companies sell the tapes through physical catalogs and the website Access Securepak to correctional facilities in at least 40 states. Centric's website also allegedly promises mixtapes by "your FAVORITE artists." It also criticized the companies' business practices, calling the distribution of allegedly illegal recordings a contradiction.

"Defendants boast on their website that their business 'was developed to eliminate contraband,' yet the infringing copies of plaintiffs' sound recordings and musical compositions, in which defendants unlawfully transact and from which they unjustly profit, are contraband personified," it says.

It also claimed that the companies were purposely underselling the product, saying they "sometimes sell their infringing products substantially below market value," in order to use mixtapes as an attractive loss-leader for other products.

The lawsuit claimed that the defendants were "fully aware" that the sale of these recordings was unlawful and that they chose to sell them anyway without regard for the label's rights. Additionally, it said that the sale of these mixtapes caused substantial and irreparable harm to Universal, which has invested millions of dollars and enormous amounts of time into creating and marketing the music.

Universal is suing the companies on counts of sound recording copyright infringement, compositional copyright infringement and other business-related complaints. The label is seeking additional damages for the non-copyright-related counts.

Reps for neither of the defendant companies have commented publically about the lawsuit.