Many of the songs were played during the "dance over" segment of the show, when DeGeneres dances from the stage to the interview area, often through the audience.
According to the suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Nashville, when representatives of the recording companies asked defendants why they hadn't obtained licenses to use the songs, defendants said they didn't "roll that way."
"As sophisticated consumers of music, Defendants knew full well that, regardless of the way they rolled, under the Copyright Act, and under state law for the pre-1972 recordings, they needed a license to use the sound recordings lawfully," the suit states.
Scott Rowe, spokesman for the show's Telepictures Productions, wrote in an e-mailed statement that the company has been working with the record labels for months to resolve the issue and remains willing to resolve it on "amicable and reasonable terms."
Rowe said the issue does not involve DeGeneres, who on Wednesday was named as the fourth judge on TV's "American Idol," and whom Rowe calls "a tremendous music enthusiast and advocate."
The suit claims the daytime talk show has used copyrighted music without permission since its inception, including "recordings by virtually every major current artist of popular music." It claims the show routinely used some of the most popular songs of the day, which the record labels don't license for daytime television at any price.
Other songs cited in the lawsuit include Michael Jackson's "Thriller"; The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."
The suit calls the segment and the music played by the show's own disc jockey "signature elements of the show."
Plaintiffs include Arista Music, Atlantic Recording Corp., Capitol Records, Motown Record Company, Sony Music Entertainment, Virgin Records America and Warner Bros. Records.
The suit does not specify the dollar amount it seeks in damages.