Music On Hold—-Capitol Records, Inc. v. Naxos of America, Inc.

In a decision sure to be appealed but hailed as groundbreaking, the New York Court of Appeals, on April 5, 2005, held that rights to performances recorded before 1972 are protected under state common law, even after they have been put on the market. The ruling extends, until 2067, common law copyright protection for recorded music to companies that own rights to pre-1972 recorded performances. They can now prevent others from releasing their own versions. Since Congress did not extend statutory protection to recordings created before February 15, 1972, the court held there is common-law copyright protection in New York for sound recordings made prior to that date (i.e., since sound recordings made before 1972 are not covered by the federal copyright act, common law protection remains in place). In this case, Capitol’s claim against Naxos (who had remastered the recordings and began selling CDs) for infringement of common-law copyright in the original recordings was upheld. Common-law copyright traditionally has protected only unpublished works, but the New York holding concludes that the musical performances were unpublished, even though commercially sold to the public for decades. Go figure.