Indoor bike company Peloton has amassed a cult following and a $4 billion valuation off of its dreamy lifestyle sell: Well-dressed men and women pedal their way to fanatically good health with the help of electrifying videos and hit songs. But the latter may have involved some cut corners, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
A group of music publishers is taking legal action against Peloton, alleging that the fitness-tech company has been using songs from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Drake, Bruno Mars and Ariana Grande without permission. Peloton launched in 2012 and currently offers a subscription service with some 13,000 home workouts. The 10 independent publishers involved in the suit say the company has knowingly violated copyright on thousands of songs since it launched at-home streaming features on its exercise equipment in 2014 by failing to obtain the requisite sync license. Under U.S. copyright rules, companies using music in other media, like the exercise videos that live on Peloton’s subscription service, must obtain sync licenses from publishers and songwriters.
“The best analogy to this would be is if a movie used music and didn’t have permission,” National Music Publishers Association president and CEO David Israelite tells Rolling Stone. “In 2017, we became aware that Peloton published playlists of music and some songs had been licensed while others had not. We engaged in what we thought was a good faith effort to try and resolve the issue, and when that didn’t lead to an acceptable result, we felt we had no alternative.” Plaintiffs in the suit include Downtown Music Publishing, Pulse Music Publishing, Ole, Ultra Music and The Royalty Network, and the thousand-odd songs represented include hits such as Maroon 5’s “Animals,” Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” Kesha’s “Die Young,” and the A Star Is Born hit “Shallow.”
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“Peloton is a textbook willful infringer,” says the lawsuit, which was filed in a U.S. district court in New York on Tuesday. “[T]here is no doubt that Peloton’s infringement was and continues to be knowing and reckless. Peloton fully understood what the copyright law required, having entered into sync licenses with certain other copyright holders, while trampling the rights of Plaintiffs by using their musical works for free and without permission.”
The lawsuit also lobbies criticisms against the company’s vested interest for music in some ways and lack of support in others. “By Peloton’s own admission, music is at the center of the ballyhooed Peloton experience,” it says. “Peloton’s experience is built around songs. Users can even select classes based off the type of music they want to listen to — Eighties rock, Seventies disco,” Israelite says.
The exercise company has been expanding its footprint in the music industry of late, striking up a relationship with startup accelerator program Techstars Music as well as bolstering its existing video-and-media offerings. A spokesperson for Peloton tells Rolling Stone that the company has “invested heavily to build a best-in-breed reporting and licensing system” and is currently evaluating the legal complaint.