The NMPA’s Vinkle Infringement Suit Has Officially Been Reassigned — Less Than Two Weeks After It Was Filed

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Photo Credit: David Veksler

Earlier this month, the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) spearheaded a copyright infringement lawsuit against the China-based parent company of video-making app Vinkle. Now, the court has recused itself from the case, which has been reassigned.

The much-publicized litigation first entered the media spotlight about two weeks ago, via a speech that NMPA head David Israelite delivered during his organization’s annual meeting in New York. In brief, the suit – filed specifically against Shenzhen Qutui Technology by parties including Hipgnosis, Big Machine, and Reservoir – accused the defendant of being “in blatant violation of copyright law” due to the presence of allegedly unlicensed music on its Vinkle platform.

These works include songs from UMG stars like Billie Eilish and The Weeknd, the plaintiffs maintained, noting also Vinkle’s over 10 million downloads on the Google Play Store and users’ ability to export their videos (complete with music) from the service and onto social media.

Interestingly, given the 10 million downloads and more than 535,000 reviews displayed on Vinkle’s Play Store profile, the app is currently receiving just a handful of new reviews, per Sensor Tower, which shows that the video-maker debuted on May 7th, 2019.

Running with the data, Vinkle in the 1,149 days since its release has racked up an average of 466 reviews daily (calculated by dividing the review count of 535,277 on Sensor Tower by the number of days that the app’s been on the Play Store). But June has brought about two to three new reviews each day, according to the same source, including zero reviews on the 3rd.

Back to the case’s reassignment, though, Israelite said during the aforementioned speech: “Earlier today, NMPA, on behalf of seven representative publishers, filed a lawsuit in the federal court in the Northern District of California against an app known as Vinkle.”

As highlighted, the case – which represents one component of a broader crackdown on the allegedly unauthorized use of music in apps – has quickly transitioned from the Northern District’s Judge Joseph C. Spero, legal documents show.

“This Court, on its own motion, hereby recuses itself from any and all further proceedings in this matter,” reads an order of recusal dated yesterday. Additionally, “a proportionate, random and blind system” has reassigned the case to Judge Susan van Keulen, also in the Northern District, per a subsequent order.

While the precise reasons for and meaning of the switch are unclear, it’s worth reiterating that Judge Spero since 1999 has presided over cases involving Apple, Google, the Big Three labels, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Cox Communications, to name just some.

In any event, it’ll be interesting to see how the complaint proceeds, particularly considering the historical difficulties of compelling certain international defendants to participate in the U.S. legal process and follow associated court orders.