By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Somewhere over the rainbow,one of the world's biggest media conglomerates is shoutingcopyright infringement as it launches a major lawsuit over theuse of songs from such classic films as "The Wizard of Oz" and"Singin' in the Rain."
The EMI Group Plc's EMI Music Publishing filed suitseeking millions of dollars in damages against AOL Time WarnerInc. , Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and relatedentities for unauthorized use of songs from catalogues onceowned by United Artists Corp. and MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
In the suit, filed in the Southern District Court of NewYork, EMI contends that when it bought the catalogue in the1980s, MGM/UA retained a license for limited royalty-free usesof certain songs.
But now that the MGM film library is part of the AOL TimeWarner empire, EMI alleges the company is using the songsacross its television, film and online properties in ways thatwere never authorized.
For example, AOL Time Warner may use the song, "We're Offto See the Wizard" to promote the film "The Wizard of Oz," butit is bending the rules by using songs from the film asbackground music for other promotional purposes on AOL, CNN orin Time Warner films without paying royalties to EMI.
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"The defendants' unauthorized use of these great songs hasleft us no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect ourrights and those of our composers," said an EMI MusicPublishing spokesperson.
A spokeswoman for AOL Time Warner declined comment. Aspokeswoman for MGM said the company had not been contacted byEMI and had no information about the lawsuit.
"Based on the information made public, we see no basis forthe claim," the spokeswoman for MGM said.
United Artists Corp. and MGM/UA Entertainment Co. sold thesong catalogues to CBS Inc. in 1982, retaining a license forlimited royalty-free uses of certain songs.
CBS then sold it to a music company called SBKEntertainment World Inc. in the mid-1980s, which was thenacquired by EMI in 1989.
Meanwhile, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. bought the MGMEntertainment Co., home to more than 3,300 feature films, in1986. In 1996, Time Warner merged with Turner BroadcastingSystem and the film library became part of the Time Warnercompany, which then merged with AOL in 2000.
EMI contends these royalty-free uses do not extend to AOLTime Warner Inc., Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., TurnerEntertainment Co., Time Warner Inc., Time Warner EntertainmentCompany L.P., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-MayerStudios Inc., or United Artists Corp.
"We tried to resolve this, but it fell on Hollywood deafears. We're asking the court to set a benchmark here so thatthese companies will pay for past uses and will not use them inthe future without seeking a license from us," said MartinBandier, chairman of EMI Music Publishing.