In-flight entertainment provider Global Eagle Entertainment willfully infringed the copyrights of thousands of Universal Music Group songs, a U.S. judge has ruled, potentially exposing the company to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
U.S. District Judge George Wu in Los Angeles said on Wednesday the record company, a unit of Vivendi (vivef), showed that Global Eagle and its subsidiary, Inflight Productions, were “repeatedly making the business decision to continue its unauthorized use” of the songs. The performers included Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and other popular artists.
A trial to determine damages is scheduled for next month.
Los Angeles-based Global Eagle provides airlines with passenger in-flight entertainment options, including movies, television and music. The company serves more than 200 carriers worldwide, according to its website.
In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, Global Eagle said it intended to appeal the decision and would vigorously defend itself at the upcoming trial. A company representative could not immediately be reached.
In a statement, a spokesman for Universal Music said the company was gratified by the ruling. “With the upcoming trial on damages, we hope to send a strong message on the value of music, and deter future infringement,” he said.
Global Eagle used more than 4,500 sound recordings and compositions without permission, according to court filings.
Federal copyright law allows for a statutory maximum of $150,000 in damages per song, meaning Global Eagle could be liable for more than $675 million. Courts, however, typically do not award the maximum amount.
Universal Music filed suit in 2014 alleging Global Eagle stole the label’s recordings for use in passenger entertainment systems as playlists or on-demand performances, but did not pay licensing fees.
On Wednesday, Wu said that not only did Global Eagle infringe the label’s works, but that the violations were willful.
The company collected money from the airlines for copyright licenses “in anticipation that it would one day need to make amends” for its unauthorized use of the songs, but failed to put any licenses in place, Wu said.
Universal Music also included American Airlines Group Inc in the lawsuit, but both sides settled last year.
The case is UMG Recordings, Inc et al v. Global Eagle Entertainment, Inc et al, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 14-cv-3466.