Roblox sued for $200 million by National Music Publishers' Association

The suit alleges copyright infringement, but how liable is a game built on user-generated content? Attorney Richard Hoeg weighs in.

This week, Variety reported that Roblox is the target of a lawsuit from the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) accusing the sandbox title of copyright infringement. The $200 million suit asserts that the company has illegally used songs in its game without properly licensing them from artists. The list of singers/songwriters includes Ariana Grande, Imagine Dragons, Deadmau5, Ed Sheeran, and the Rolling Stones.

In a company statement, Roblox said that it was “surprised and disappointed,” stating that the suit “represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Roblox platform operates.” As a sandbox game, the content within Roblox is created by players. The company is sure to argue that this user generated content (UGC) frees it from any liability when it comes to infringement, and that the creators themselves are responsible for any music licensing required by law. 

For attorney Richard Hoeg of Hoeg Law in Michigan, this is likely to form the crux of Roblox’s defense.

“I don’t have the lawsuit or Roblox terms in front of me, but presumably Roblox requires its users to represent that they aren’t stealing copyrighted materials, but those are just ‘words on a page,’ and people ignore terms documents all the time,” Hoeg told GameDaily.

The NMPA will likely try to prove that Roblox was aware that its users were committing infringement and deliberately looked the other way, Hoeg said. Further, the organization may argue that Roblox financially benefited from the alleged infringement.

“The music industry will be trying to show that Roblox itself contributed to the infringement (by existing and providing a means of distribution/payment to the content creator), and that they themselves profited from the arrangement,” he explained.

Hoeg expects much of the case to boil down to what actions Roblox actually took to prevent any legitimate infringing activity. He also expects it to be settled out of court before it reaches the trial phase.

Roblox was originally launched in 2004, and has since become a prime example of strong ongoing monetization within the games industry. Last year, the company closed a $150 million round of funding before going public with a listing on the NYSE earlier this year. At the time, Roblox was valued at $30 billion, with shares going for $65 to $72 each.

In many ways, Roblox is its own condensed game development industry, with users able to earn money from their content. With more than 64 million users, the leading example is Adopt Me, one of the most popular experiences within Roblox. The developers behind the game have leveraged its success to found Uplift Games.

This is to say that as Roblox has become more and more ubiquitous throughout the years, it has understandably become a more attractive target for lawsuits like the NMPA’s. The nature of the Roblox experiencealso leaves room for issues surrounding copyright law. Similar to YouTube and Twitch, platforms built on creator participation are always going to be subject to scrutiny in regards to licensing practices.

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Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at  sdesatoff@rektglobal.com or follow him on Twitter.