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New technology, old laws...it all comes down to interpretation

Federal laws protect labels and artists from copyright infringement. The concept is simple enough, but the laws themselves are complex and quite confusing at times. For instance, the law requires that radio services that broadcast under newer technology such as online streaming are required to obtain a license to broadcast the songs that they play.

There is one little hiccup in this law that has created a debate and led to several lawsuits, the most recent filed against Pandora Media. The federal legislation only covers songs that were recorded after Feb. 15, 1972. In the hierarchy of government, federal law trumps state law when a conflict exists. Because federal law is silent as to recordings made prior to this date, state laws may be applicable.

Under New York’s common-law, Sony, Universal, Warner Music and ABKCO argue that Pandora owes them for royalties in an amount that adds up to tens of millions for songs recorded prior to the date above and played without a license.

“This case presents a classic attempt by Pandora to reap where it has not sown,” argued the complaint. The complaint reiterates the idea that the musical works produced prior to the date are still valuable and unique property that Pandora has misappropriated.

Pandora already pays a portion of the $656 million in performance royalties that were paid to a nonprofit royalty organization that acts as a sort of middle man for these license agreements. Representatives for the company said that where these earlier recordings are concerned, those licenses are not required.

Who is right? The law doesn’t appear to be absolutely clear on the issue and no ruling has been made in the intellectual property case by a New York judge, so we couldn’t say. However, this lawsuit is simply another example of the issues businesses, entrepreneurs, licensees and others now face.

As advancements are made, laws must often be interpreted to fit litigation filed over devices or technology that wasn’t even in existence at the time they were drafted. An experienced New York intellectual property attorney knows how to adapt as new issues arise in civil litigation.

Source: The New York Times, “Big Labels Take Aim at Pandora on Royalties,” Ben Sisario, April 17, 2014

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