Record labels may stop other companies from releasing their pre-1972 recordings in New York without permission, an appellate court held April 5. As a result, Capitol Records may continue with a copyri
NEW YORK -- Record labels may stop other companies from releasing their pre-1972 recordings in New York without permission, an appellate court held April 5. As a result, Capitol Records may continue with a copyright infringement claim against Naxos of America over the release of several classical recordings made in the 1930s.
Franklin, Tenn.-based Naxos began releasing in 1999 CDs of performances by Yehudi Menuhin, Pablo Casal and Edwin Fischer that were recorded in England by the Gramophone Co. Ltd., now owned by Capitol parent company EMI Records Ltd.
Capitol filed a lawsuit against Naxos in federal court in 2002. The U.S. District Court in New York granted summary judgment to Naxos, concluding that Capitol did not have intellectual property rights in the original recordings because the copyrights had expired in the United Kingdom.
On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals noted that federal copyright law protects only sound recordings produced after Feb. 15, 1972. It held that under federal law, "it is entirely up to New York to determine the scope of its common law copyright" to these recordings, and asked the New York Court of Appeals to determine this issue.
The New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, issued its opinion recognizing common-law copyright protection for sound recordings produced before 1972. Therefore, "Naxos is not entitled to defeat Capitol's claim for infringement of common-law copyright in the original recordings," the court wrote.
"We are extremely pleased that the New York State court's opinion so strongly underscored that these works are protected under state law," EMI Classics president Richard Lyttelton says. "This unequivocal judgment will enable these and other artists and their estates to continue to benefit from historical recordings, at least in the U.S. Recording companies need this level of protection to sustain current recording programs, particularly in the classics genre."
Naxos could not be reached for comment. EMI does not comment on pending litigation.
The court's opinion is summarized in The Fine Print  in this issue of ELW.