Well, this is embarrassing. Warner Music, Sony BMG Music, EMI Music and Universal Music have collectively settled with a group of Canadian artists for $45 million, based on a lawsuit that charged the labels with pirating music for commercial purposes.
The issue that brought on this class action lawsuit by a group of Canadian artists and composers is related to how record labels (in Canada, at least) produce compilation CDs, like 'Best Maple Syrup Moose Music of 2010 Eh" or whatever it is Canadians are listening to these days. Just kidding, I love you Canada, but please stop sending all your snow our way, okay?
Apparently, record labels are allowed to commercially produce these compilations without actually paying for any of the content, provided that they add the outstanding tracks to a 'pending' list that says that they'll pay later. Their argument seems to be, "well, we were going to pay eventually, so it's not really stealing." Sorry, but until you let me walk out of a store with one of your CDs based a vague promise that I'll probably pay you in 20 years or so, that is really stealing. The Canadian artists who have been getting ripped off call this system "exploit now, pay later if at all."
I may not understand their taste in music, but at least the Canadians had the stones to take a hard line on this music theft and force the record companies to pay up. Of course, the labels refused to admit any wrongdoing, basically just chalking up the whole thing to poor communication and misunderstandings and stuff like that. That's just PR spin, though, and as the lawsuit pointed out, "the conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers."
This isn't just a double standard, since the record companies have always claimed to be enforcing copyright laws to protect artists, not just themselves, so it's pretty revealing to see that the artists are sometimes getting screwed on their end, too. This settlement isn't likely to change things long term, but thanks to Canada, a blow has been righteously struck against hypocrisy. Huzzah!