A federal judge has ruled on summary judgment that BlueBeat.com is liable for violating copyrights in thousands of songs. In making the decision, the judge had swatted away one of the stranger defenses to infringement of sound recordings.
Last year, BlueBeat made headlines for selling tracks for 25 cents and streaming songs for free. Most notably, the company was one of the only venues at the time that offered for sale digital tracks from The Beatles -- and the only U.S.-based company that claimed to do so legally.
Record labels put BlueBeat's legal theories to the test in a lawsuit filed in November 2009.
Hank Risan, CEO of BlueBeat, said in an interview that the company made single copies of each sound recording, then analyzed them and destroyed the copies before creating a new simulation based on parametrics of sound.
According to BlueBeat, the scheme was protected by 17 U.S.C. § 114(b), which doesn't extend rights of copyright owners to "the making or duplication of another sound recording that consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording."
It was dubbed the "psycho-acoustic simulation" defense.
The labels responded that the language of the law only pertained to their rights -- that it didn't permit companies to re-record recordings in an attempt to get around copyright liability.
In a decision on Thursday, Judge Josephine Staton Tucker agrees: "BlueBeat fails to provide any evidence...showing how or why its purported 'simulations' are anything but illicit copies of the Copyrighted Recordings," she says.
The judge says that BlueBeat didn't provide evidence that it had obtained a valid § 114 license, that copies were used solely by BlueBeat, and that copies were destroyed.
Instead, Judge Tucker rules that "Risan's obscure and undefined pseudo-scientific language appaears to be a long-winded way of describing 'sampling,' i.e. copying, and fails to provide any concrete evidence of independent creation."
Having rejected BlueBeat's arguments that its "simulations" are original, independent works -- and also rejecting a defense that record labels don't have standing to bring claims for pre-1972 recordings -- the judge grants the record companies' motion for partial summary judgment.
Notwithstanding an appeal, the case now moves into determining what damages BlueBeat must pay to the record companies.