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The Rambler :: blog

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Capital Records, Inc. v. Naxos of America, Inc. 

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Well, here's an alarming development to find in your news inbox of a morning.
A major change to US music copyright practices could be in the offing after a court ruled a record label broke the law by reissuing old recordings.

New York's highest court said Naxos was wrong to release classical recordings by Yehudi Menuhin and others - even though they were out of copyright.

The court said such recordings were still covered by common law.

... Naxos restored and reissued sessions made in the UK for The Gramaphone Co in the 1930s by Menuhin, Edwin Fisher and Pablo Casals.

UK law only protects recordings for 50 years and they were not covered by a US federal copyright law that came into force in 1972.
Naxos declare 'a certain insanity' in the ruling. The story goes back to an action brought by Capitol against Naxos back in 2002. At that time, the District Court granted summary judgment to Naxos:
The court characterized Capitol's cause of action as a "hybrid copyright, unfair competition" claim and concluded that Capitol did not have intellectual property rights in the original recordings because its copyrights had expired in the United Kingdom.
(from the Court of Appeal's report [pdf] of yesterday's ruling). The appeal judges concluded that
state common law protects ownership interests in sound recordings made before 1972 that are not covered by the federal copyright act
and that therefore Capitol's original claim for infringement of common-law copyright should stand.

This one's gonna run some more - it has to - so keep watching kids. There are plenty of 'historical recordings' made by well-known British popular beat combos dating from before 1972 that will be out of the UK's 50-year copyright protection, so expect Capitol et al to breathe a huge sigh of relief before throwing their weight behind this ruling.

UPDATE: Milady, who is much more informed about these things than I, e-mails to say
I think the court is ruling that although the law doesn't cover these recordings it should as it was the original legislature's intention to expand the term of copyright protection. More implied terms than copyright law, but legally it holds water. BUT I really think there is the begining of a sea change against this sort of exploitative monopolistic rights hoarding - you mark my word, Kahle v Ashcroft is going to blow a lot of things wide open. Though probably not for several more years until it hits the supreme court *sigh* ... Even the US Copyright Office is getting concerned about the shrinking public domain and has launched a consultation on orphan works; a lot of judges and commentators are suddenly wondering about the fine line between righteous rights holders and evil monopolists and realising it got crossed a while back.
So maybe it's not all as bleak as I first (knee-jerkingly) feared...


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