Landmark Sony, Global Eagle pact is music to passengers’ ears


When Pete Seeger adapted the third chapter of The Book of Ecclesiastes into the hit song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” in the late 1950’s I don’t think he had any idea how applicable the lyrics would be to the big audio licensing news coming out of the APEX Expo this week in Portland.

Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) announced it has struck a global licensing agreement with Sony Music Entertainment that would add literally thousands of songs from Sony Music’s iconic, deep cuts catalog to GEE’s inflight entertainment portfolio. Some in the industry thought a day like this would never come. To paraphrase another popular song of the era: what a difference a year makes.

Over 12 months ago, record labels’ long-running concerns over music licensing abuses in the airline industry bubbled to the surface in the form of various lawsuits. Airlines were warned they could face liability if they continued offering audio-on-demand (AOD) and streaming audio to passengers without reaching direct licensing agreements with music companies.

In one instance, Sony informed American Airlines that the airline had not paid performance fees and was infringing on its intellectual property rights, and American subsequently sued its content service provider, Global Eagle subsidiary Inflight Productions, claiming Inflight was responsible for obtaining all licenses and paying music royalty fees.

Responding to the pressure, some carriers flat out dropped AOD music offerings from their systems entirely, or like American, focused more on featuring indie artists.

The new broad-based deal between Global Eagle and Sony gives the content service provider access to Sony’s vast catalog of hit songs from recording labels like Columbia, Epic, RCA, Masterworks, Legacy, and Sony Music Nashville for use in airline AOD systems around the globe.

With more than ten regional and global airlines already signed on to provide Sony choices to their passengers on flights served by Global Eagle, the pact is sure to prove hugely popular with music loving passengers the world over, not to the mention with carriers who will no doubt relish the streamlined approach to music licensing that the partnership affords them.

“This milestone agreement between Sony Music and Global Eagle represents a key element in our next generation IFE offerings, and opens the door to exciting opportunities that are sure to further elevate the passenger experience,” says Global Eagle CEO Dave Davis.

Though there has been continued roiling tensions (and lawsuits) between the recording industry and airlines regarding copyright and licensing fees over the last year, solutions were floated from both sides. Iain Kemplay, founder and managing director of Kemplay Consulting, says the answer lays not in creating more patchwork “stop gap solutions” but rather in focusing on forging innovative “all rights package” agreements between the music industry and CSPs that would serve as sort of a one-stop shop for carriers. All of which makes the Sony-Global Eagle alliance that much more timely.