No New York Common Law Public Performance Right for Sound Recording Creators

We close 2016 with the latest on the Flo & Eddie v. Sirius XM saga. My previous posts on this topic include Unhappy Turtles Take a Bite Out of Sirius XM for Unauthorized Public Performance, Flo and Eddie Goes for the Two Coast Punch Against Sirius XM and Supreme Court of Florida to Weigh in on Common Law Sound Recording Rights.

Sirius XM Radio, a satellite digital radio service, broadcasts pre-1972 sound recordings without licenses and without paying the copyright owners of those sound recordings. Flo & Eddie, Inc., which owns the rights to The Turtles pre-1972 sound recordings, sued Sirius XM in multiple federal courts. Flo & Eddie claimed that Sirius XM’s actions infringe Flo & Eddie’s common law copyrights. Although U.S. copyright law has protected rights to musical compositions since 1831, federal copyright law did not protect rights to sound recordings until 1972, albeit offering limited protection. In 1995, federal copyright law began providing owners of post-1972 sound recordings a right to control public performance of sound recordings for digital audio transmission performances only. The right does not apply to AM/FM radio stations. Flo & Eddie argue that state common law copyrights protect their pre-1972 sound recordings from Sirius XM’s unauthorized satellite digital public performances.

After the federal district court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Flo & Eddie on ownership of the public performance right, Sirius XM appealed. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals asked the New York State Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, to authoritatively answer this question:

Is there a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings under New York law and, if so, what is the nature and scope of that right?

The New York Court of Appeals ruled that New York common law copyright does not recognize a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings. I think the dissent presents the more persuasive argument. The majority passed the buck and declined to exercise its common law authority.

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No More One and Done for DMCA Agent Designation Filing

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) shields online service providers from liability for copyright infringement for information uploaded to their networks by users, the “safe harbor,” if the online service providers meet certain requirements. To benefit from the DMCA safe harbor, the online service provider must designate an agent to receive copyright infringement notices. The online service provider must also file the designated agent contact information with the Register of Copyrights. The DMCA requires the Register of Copyrights to maintain a current directory of the designated agents.

Until now, online service providers could comply with the DMCA designated agent filing requirement by filing with the Register of Copyright just once. The U.S. Copyright Office instituted a new rule entitled “Designation of Agent To Receive Notification of Claimed Infringement,” effective December 1, 2016. Beginning December 1, 2016, online service providers must use the Copyright Office’s new online system to provide the required designated agent information. The Copyright Office will no longer accept paper forms. To ensure the accuracy of the designated agent directory, the Copyright Office now states “all service providers seeking to comply with 17 U.S.C. 512(c)(2), including those that have previously designated an agent using the paper process under the Office’s interim regulations, are required to submit new designations through the electronic system by December 31, 2017.” In addition, the online service provider’s agent designation will expire and become invalid after three years unless the online service provider renews the agent designation. Some copyright thought leaders argue that the Copyright Office’s rule changes create a trap for unwary website owners who currently benefit from the DMCA safe harbor.  Eric Goldman explains his objections to the new rule in Copyright Office Gratuitously Kills the DMCA Safe Harbor for Thousands of Websites.

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Source Code Evidence Required to Establish Computer Game Copyright Infringement

Robin Antonick developed the computer code for the original John Madden Football game for Apple II (Apple II Madden), released by Electronic Arts (EA) in 1988. Antonick also developed Madden games for IBM-compatible computers. Antonick began work on Nintendo and Sega Genesis games, but EA told him to stop work on games for those platforms. EA then hired Park Place Productions to develop Madden games for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo platforms. EA agreed in its 1986 contract with Antonick to pay royalties on derivative works of the Apple II Madden game. EA did not pay Antonick royalties on the games Park Place developed and informed Antonick that those games were not derivative works.

Antonick sued EA for breach of contract in 2011 for EA’s refusal to pay Antonick royalties on the Madden games Park Place developed. At trial, neither the source code for the Apple II Madden game nor the source code for the allegedly infringing Park Place Madden games was introduced into evidence. Likewise, no images of the games were introduced into evidence. At the end of the jury trial, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law to EA. The district court determined that Antonick did not provide sufficient evidence of copyright infringement because Antonick did not introduce into evidence either the source code for the Apple II Madden game or the source code for the Sega Madden game developed by Park Place. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The jury found that the statute of limitations did not bar Antonick’s claims, but that issue was not appealed and therefore the Ninth Circuit did not discuss it.

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