Judge Strikes Down Anti-Bootleg Law
A New York federal judge on Friday struck down a 1994 law banning the sale of bootleg recordings of live music, ruling the law unfairly grants "seemingly perpetual protection" to the original performaA New York federal judge on Friday struck down a 1994 law banning the sale of bootleg recordings of live music, ruling the law unfairly grants "seemingly perpetual protection" to the original performances.
U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. dismissed a federal indictment of Jean Martignon, who runs a Manhattan mail-order and Internet business that sells bootleg recordings.
Baer found the bootleg law was written by Congress in the spirit of federal copyright law, which protects writing for a fixed period of time -- typically for the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death. But the judge said the bootleg law, which was passed "primarily to cloak artists with copyright protection," could not stand because it places no time limit on the ban.
Baer also noted that copyright law protects "fixed" works -- such as books or recorded music releases -- while bootlegs, by definition, are of live performances.
A federal grand jury indicted Martignon in October 2003 for selling "unauthorized recordings of live performances by certain musical artists through his business." The business, Midnight Records, once had a store in Manhattan but now operates solely by mail and Internet. It sells hundreds of recordings, specializing in rock artists, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin.
A spokesperson for the Manhattan U.S. attorney said federal prosecutors were "reviewing the decision and will evaluate what steps ought to be taken going forward."
The Recording Industry Association of America also disagreed with the ruling. A spokesperson said the decision "stands in marked contrast to existing law and prior decisions that have determined that Congress was well within its constitutional authority to adopt legislation that prevented trafficking in copies of unauthorized recordings of live performances."
The bootleg law calls for prison terms of up to five years for first offenders and 10 years for second offenders, plus fines. It requires courts to order the destruction of any bootlegs created in violation of the law. The law did not apply to piracy, which is the unauthorized copying or sale of recorded music.
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