Making it as a songwriter is no easy task. Once a song becomes famous, artists rely on earnings from continued use of the songs, often on the radio. Radio stations who fail to pay artists for the use of their songs can face legal ramifications.

A current lawsuit provides an example.

How does this work?

Before we delve into the details of the case, it helps to have a basic understanding of how radio stations are able to play music. The federal Copyright Act allows copyrights for music. This allows artists to protect their work and potentially make money from the songs they write, produce and perform. To play songs, radio stations need to receive permission from the artists. The copyright owner can provide permission to the radio station in the form of a license.

Getting a license for each song is impractical. As a result, a couple of organizations represent thousands of copyright owners. This makes the licensing process to play music much more efficient and better ensures artists get paid without making it too difficult to get their music on air.

In this case, one of the organizations, Global Music Rights, claims a radio station has failed to pay for the use of over 130 songs played more than 10,000 times. Examples of songs played without permission include “Enter Sandman” by Metallica and “Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller.

What are the potential damages?

The damages can be extremely high. In this case, the group that represents the artists has requested $150,000 for each instance of infringement, or the maximum allowed award. This translates to a request of over $1.5 billion in damages.