Because, you see, it seems that the music companies have been quite blatantly breaching copyright, and now artists are planning to take them to the cleaners.
The lawsuit in question goes back to October 2008, but continues to be dragged up in the news because new plaintiffs keep joining the case. Most recently, jazz musician Chet Baker's estate has joined the growing list of musicians and artists who are getting on the music industry's case for their abuse of a certain aspect of Canadian copyright practices—something that the labels themselves don't even deny doing.
As University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist pointed out on his blog, the issue stems from a change to the law in the 1980s that eventually produced something known as the "pending list." Essentially, record companies no longer had to get a compulsory license every time they wanted to use a song for, say, a compilation album. Instead, they went ahead and used the song without waiting for authorization or making payment, adding the song to a list of music that is pending authorization and payment. If you're questioning whether you read that right, that basically means the record industries could use songs as long as they pinky swore they would get authorization and pay the artist for it eventually.
As you can imagine, the business didn't quite work that way. Instead of keeping up with its tab on the pending list, the recording industry just kept adding songs—without obtaining any rights. The pending list among the lawsuit's defendants has topped 300,000 songs from both large and small artists alike—300,000 songs that the labels are openly admitting that they have not secured the rights for. In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim that the record companies have been unjustly enriched by the use of their unauthorized music (they have, after all, been selling the music without permission and not paying out).
Aaaaaaahahahahaha! Take that, you thieving, exploitative cunts!
And don't, for a second, think that the artists are playing softball with the music companies. In a wonderful double irony, they are using the music companies' own assessment of damages—used against individual filesharers—as a measure of how much said companies owe in damages.
The recording companies targeted in the suit acknowledge that the pending list reflects unpaid royalties "in excess of $50 million," but the real extent of the damage could go far higher—possibly to the tune of $60 billion. This is because the class is asking for both statutory and punitive damages for the labels' behavior (as Geist points out, the same standards being used to go after individual file sharers), meaning that the labels could be asked to pay up to $20,000 per infringement.
This could be extremely interesting and most certainly it should be highly amusing to watch. Mind you, I would recommend buying your albums as soon as possible: if the music companies lose, they'll be trying to recoup their losses from you and me...