Florida High Court Says No Common Law Exclusive Right Of Public Performance In Pre-72 Recordings

Floe & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, No. SC16-1161 (Fl. Oct. 26, 2017).

In the long-running dispute between Flo & Eddie (the Turtles) and Sirius, the Florida Supreme Court held that Florida common law does not recognize an exclusive right of public performance in pre-1972 sound recordings.

The dispute in this case concerns rights in sound recordings of performances of musical works as distinct from rights in the composition of such works. The crucial question presented is whether Florida common law recognizes an exclusive right of public performance in pre-1972 sound recordings. We conclude that Florida law does not recognize any such right and that Flo & Eddie’s various state law claims fail.

Thus, Florida joined in New York, leaving it to the legislature rather than the Courts.

Illinois & Common Law Copyright Infringement Of Pre-1972 Songs

Sheridan v. iHeartMedia Inc., No. 1:15-cv- 09229 (N.D. Ill. June 5, 2017).

An Illinois judge dismissed a class action against iHeartMedia Inc. to start paying royalties for pre-1972 sound recordings. The judge ruled that any copyright protection afforded by the state’s common law is extinguished when a song is published. The judge said that Illinois’ common law would only protect unpublished songs and once a song was sold or broadcast, “no common-law copyright protection is available for those recordings.”

9th Cir. Certifies Questions To California Supreme Court in Pre-72 Sound Recording Case

FLO & EDDIE, INC. V. PANDORA MEDIA, INC., No. 15-55287 (9th Cir. Mar. 15, 2017).

In a case concerning whether California recognizes a common law copyright in the right of public performance for pre-1972 sound recordings, the 9th Circuit certified the following questions to the California Supreme Court:

1. Under section 980(a)(2) of the California Civil Code, do copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings that were sold to the public before 1982 possess an exclusive right of public performance?

2. If not, does California’s common law of property or tort otherwise grant copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings an exclusive right of public performance?

The certification is similar to the questions certified by the 2nd Circuit to the New York Court of Appeals in a companion case involving Sirius.  See fn. 2 and fn. 6.  The 9th Circuit stated:

We agree with our sister circuits that certification is the best way to proceed on these issues, especially in California. As an incubator of both musical talent and technological innovation, California has a significant interest in the appropriate resolution of the certified questions. Resolution of these questions will likely affect the state and industries within the state in a variety of ways, and is therefore best left to the California Supreme Court.

 

2nd Circuit Closes Out "Turtles" Pre-72 Sound Recording Case In Favor Of Sirius

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius, No. 15-1164-cv (2d Cir. Feb. 16, 2017).

After the New York Court of Appeals answered the Second Circuit's certified question that New York common law does not recognize a right of public performance for creators of pre-1972 sound recordings, the Second Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Sirius's motion for summary judgment and remanded with instructions to grant Sirius's motion for summary judgment and to dismiss the case with prejudice.  The Second Circuit noted that the answer to the certified question was determinative of the other claims.

No Common Law Right of Public Performance In Pre-72 Sound Recordings; Issue Is For Legistlature

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v Sirius XM Radio, Inc., 2016 NYSlipOp 08480 (N.Y. 12/20/2016).

New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, holds that "New York common-law copyright does not recognize a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings," answering in the negative the Second Circuit's certified question in the Flo & Eddie (Turtles) case against Sirius satellite radio concerning alleged common law copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings.  In a lengthy majority opinion authored by Justice Stein, the Court discussed the historical treatment of sound-recordings at both the federal and state level, analyzed prior decisions in both New York state court and the 2nd Circuit, and ultimately held that "New York common law does not recognize a right of public performance for creators of pre-1972 sound recordings" and that the state legislature should decide "whether recognizing a right of public performance in sound recordings is a good idea.

In addition to prior decisions, the Court addressed the practice of interested stake-holders in the music industry.

Indeed, it would be illogical to conclude that the right of public performance would have existed for decades without the courts recognizing such a right as a matter of state common law, and in the absence of any artist or record company attempting to enforce that right in this state until now. The absence of a right of public performance in sound recordings was discussed at the federal level for years and became acutely highlighted in 1971, upon enactment of the Sound Recording Amendment, and again in 1995, upon enactment of the DPRA. At those times, all interested parties were placed on notice of the statute's limited rights for post-1972 sound recordings. Although parties do not lose their rights merely by failing to enforce them, the fact that holders of rights to sound recordings took no action whatsoever to assert common-law protection for at least the past four decades — when the absence of a comprehensive federal right of public performance for sound recordings was clear — supports our conclusion that artists and copyright holders did not believe such a right existed in the common law.
***
Simply stated, New York's common-law copyright has never recognized a right of public performance for pre-1972 sound recordings. Because the consequences of doing so could be extensive and far-reaching, and there are many competing interests at stake, which we are not equipped to address, we decline to create such a right for the first time now. Even the District Court here, while finding the existence of a common-law copyright of public performance in sound recordings, acknowledged that such a right was "unprecedented," would upset settled expectations, and would "have significant economic consequences" (62 F Supp 3d at 352). Under these circumstances, the recognition of such a right should be left to the legislature.

Notably, the Court did not foreclose the plaintiffs' claims under other common-law theories of recovery, like unfair competition.

Finally, we note that sound recording copyright holders may have other causes of action, such as unfair competition, which are not directly tied to copyright law. Indeed, in the present case, plaintiff prevailed in the District Court on its causes of action alleging unfair competition and unauthorized copying of sound recordings. The Second Circuit concluded that defendant had copied plaintiff's recordings, but postponed the questions of fair use and unfair competition until after our resolution of the certified question (821 F3d at 270 n 4, 272). Thus, even in the absence of a common-law right of public performance, plaintiff has other potential avenues of recovery.

The concurring opinion, by Justice Fahey, agreed that the issue should be determined by the legislature but accepted the Second Circuit's invitation to opine on how to define "public performance" and stated

To that end, while I agree with the conclusion of my colleagues in the majority that the common law of this state does not recognize a right of public performance, I would answer the pertinent part of the certified question in the negative with this caveat: "public performance" does not include the act of allowing members of the public to receive the "on-demand" transmission of particular sound recordings specifically selected by those listeners.

Lastly, Justice Rivera dissented: "New York's broad and flexible common-law copyright protections for sound recordings encompass a public performance right that extends to the outer boundaries of current federal law, and ceases upon preemption by Congress."

Questions Whether "Iron Man" Comic Theme Song A Work Made For Hire Under 1909 Copyright Act; 2nd Cir.

Urbont v. Sony Music, No. 15-1778 (2d Cir. July 29, 2016).

Plaintiff, who claimed ownership rights in the composition of the "Iron Man" comic theme-song from the 1960s, raised sufficient questions of material fact to rebut defendants' "work made for hire" defense under the 1909 Copyright Act and its "instance and expense" test, holds the Second Circuit in reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants on Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim.  Further, the defendants -- who were not the alleged employer (Marvel Comics was) and therefore a third-party to the alleged relationship -- had standing to assert the work made for hire defense.  However, the appellate court held that the lower court properly dismissed the plaintiff's state-law claims as pre-empted, rejecting the plaintiff's argument that there was a separate pre-1972 sound recording subject to state laws rather than the song as part of an audio-visual work and therefore preempted.

Pre-72 Sound Recordings Question Heading To Florida Supreme Court

Flo & Eddie v. Sirius XM, No. 15-13100 (11th Cir. Jun. 29, 2016).

In "The Turtles" appeal from a decision granting Sirius XM summary judgment on the common law copyright infringement claim concerning the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings, the 11th Circuit deferred its decision pending a determination of the state-law question by Florida's highest court.  The lower court had decided, in favor of Sirius, that Florida common law does not recognize an exclusive right of performance.  On appeal, the 11th Circuit discussed an old (1943) Florida Supreme Court case involving magic tricks and found that the case "indicates that there is at least a significant argument that Florida common law may recognize a common law property right in sound recordings."  However, the 11th Circuit also indicated that the old magic trick case indicated that "publication" of the intellectual property could result in termination of the common law copyright.

Neither the Supreme Court of Florida nor any of the Florida District Courts of Appeal have addressed whether Florida common law would recognize copyright protection for sound recordings, and if so, whether the sales to the public of Flo & Eddie’s sound recordings or the public performance thereof would constitute a publication or dedication to the public which would terminate the copyright protection in whole or in part.

Accordingly, the 11th Cir. certified the following questions to the Florida Supreme Court.

Because Florida law is not clear on these matters, we certify to the Supreme Court of Florida the questions of whether Florida common law copyright extends to pre-1972 sound recordings and, if so, whether it includes an exclusive right of public performance and/or an exclusive right of reproduction. We also certify the question of whether Flo & Eddie has forfeited any common law copyright by publication. Additionally, to the extent that Florida recognizes a common law copyright in sound recordings including a right of exclusive reproduction, we certify the question of whether the backup or buffer copies made by Sirius constitute infringement of Flo & Eddie’s common law copyright.

Lastly, to the extent that Florida does not recognize a common law copyright in sound recordings, or to the extent that such a copyright was terminated by publication, the 11th Circuit certified the question of whether plaintiff nevertheless has a cause of action for common law unfair competition / misappropriation, common law conversion, or statutory civil theft.

DMCA Safe Harbor Applies To Pre-1972 Sound Recordings & Plaintiffs Have Burden Of Proving Red-Flag Knowledge; 2d Cir.

Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo, No. 14/1048 (2d Cir. June 16, 2016).

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor (section 512 of the Copyright Act) applies to pre-1972 sound recordings and protects service providers from infringement liability under state copyright laws, holds the Second Circuit on an interlocutory appeal in a copyright infringement action brought by record labels against Vimeo.  Further, the Court held that the mere fact that a video contains all or virtually all of a “recognizable,” copyrighted sound recording and was viewed in some fashion by a service provider’s employee is insufficient to prove knowledge or red flag knowledge of infringement; and further that the record company plaintiffs' evidence was insufficient to support the imputation of knowledge to Vimeo through the theory of willful blindness.

On the safe harbor question, the Second Circuit found that "A literal and natural reading of the text of § 512(c) leads to the conclusion that its use of the phrase 'infringement of copyright' does include infringement of state laws of copyright. One who has been found liable for infringement of copyright under state laws has indisputably been found 'liable for infringement of copyright'.”  Further, "To construe § 512(c) as leaving service providers subject to liability under state copyright laws for postings by users of infringements of which the service providers were unaware would defeat the very purpose Congress sought to achieve in passing the statute."  Construing the safe harbor of § 512(c) as not granting protection to service providers from liability for state-law-based copyright infringements would substantially defeat the statute’s purposes.  Accordingly, the 2nd Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to Plaintiffs as to the availability of the DMCA safe harbor to Vimeo in relation to liability for infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings. 

On the "red flag" part, the 2nd Circuit addressed the shifting burdens of proof (plaintiff has the burden of proving red flag knowledge) and held that "A copyright owner’s mere showing that a video posted by a user on the service provider’s site includes substantially all of a recording of recognizable copyrighted music, and that an employee of the service provider saw at least some part of the user’s material, is insufficient to sustain the copyright owner’s burden of proving that the service provider had either actual or red flag knowledge of the infringement."  The Court then addressed several reasons why.  Accordingly, the Court held that Vimeo was entitled to summary judgment on those videos as to the red flag knowledge issue, "unless plaintiffs can point to evidence sufficient to carry their burden of proving that Vimeo personnel either knew the video was infringing or knew facts making that conclusion obvious to an ordinary person who had no specialized knowledge of music or the laws of copyright."

Lastly, the Court rejected the Plaintiffs’ argument that the district court erred in its ruling in Vimeo’s favor as to the Plaintiffs’ reliance on the doctrine of willful blindness.

Remastering Defeats Claims of Pre-72 Sound Recording Infringement

ABS Entertainment, Inc. v. CBS Corp., No. 15-cv-6257 (C.D. Cal. May 30, 2016) [Doc. 104].

In a putative class-action alleging that CBS was publicly performing pre-1972 sound recordings in violation of California state law, the Court granted defendants summary judgment because defendants had only publicly performed post-1972 remastered versions of Plaintiffs' works which are governed by federal copyright law.  The Court concluded that a sound engineer's remastering of pre-1972 sound recordings -- through subjectively and artistically altering the work's timbre, spatial imagery, sound balance, and loudness range, but otherwise leaving the work unedited -- is entitled to federal copyright protection.  Focusing on whether the works were derivative, the Court considered the parties' evidence of originality (or lack thereof).  Further, the Court focused on the fact that the remastered sound recordings which CBS actually performed were created pursuant to authorization from either Plaintiffs or their predecessors.

Federal 2nd Circuit Certifies Pre-72 Question To New York's Highest Court in Flo & Eddie Case

Flo & Eddie v. SiriusXM Radio, 15-1164cv (2d Cir. Apr. 13, 2016).

In the "Turtles" case against Sirius for common law copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings under New York common-law, the Second Circuit certified the question to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals: "This case presents a significant and unresolved issue of New York copyright law: Is there a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings under New York law and, if so, what is the nature and scope of that right? Because this question is important, its answer is unclear, and its resolution controls the present appeal, we reserve decision and certify this question to the New York Court of Appeals."

The lower court had denied Sirius' motion for summary judgment, and the Second Circuit reviewed the matter de novo.  The Circuit stated "the issue before us is whether New York common law affords copyright holders the right to control the performance of sound recordings as part of their copyright ownership."  However, New York's highest court has not ruled on the issue in any prior case, and without such guidance, the Circuit was "in doubt" whether New York provides such rights under common law.  Thus, the Court found that certification to the New York Court of Appeals was appropriate.  Accordingly, the Court reserved decision and certified the following question for decision by the New York Court of Appeals:

"Is there a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings under New York law and, if so, what is the nature and scope of that right?"

Pre-72 Class Actions Stayed In Light Of Turtles' Appeals

Sheridan v. iHeartMedia, 15-cv-7574; Sheridan v. Sirius XM, 15-cv-7576 (D.N.J. Mar. 16, 2016).

In a putative class action, the owners of sound recordings made before 1972 brought copyright infringement and unjust enrichment claims under New Jersey law against defendants for broadcasting their recordings without receiving authorization or compensation.  Defendants moved to stay the case pending the resolution of three similar actions currently before the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd, 9th and 11th Circuits.  The court granted the stay.  "Most importantly, the Court finds that staying this case until the Second, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have ruled on related cases will more likely than not simplify the issues presented here and promote judicial economy."

Pre-1972 Copyright Claims Limited By 3, Not 6, Year Limitation Period

ABS Entm't, Inc. v. CBS, No. 15-cv-6801 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2016).

New York's 3 year statute of limitations "for an injury to property" applies to plaintiffs' claims for common law copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings, holds the Court, not the State's 6-year "catch-all" provision.  CPLR 213(1) and 214(4).  Plaintiffs, a putative class, allege that CBS violated the public performance rights of pre-1972 sound recordings as protected under New York common law, and allege common law infringement and unfair competition.  The narrow issue before the Court was whether a 3 or 6 year limitations period applied, and Judge Koetel held that the plain meaning of "property" (as used in the 3 year statute) is broad enough to encompass intangible property, like intellectual property in the form of sound recordings (or trade secrets).  In other words, the 3 year limitations period is not limited to tangible property.  Notably, the Court recognized that "the case law is mixed" on this question, addressing both the Flo & Eddie [80 F. Supp. 3d 535 , 541 (S.D.N.Y. 2015)] and Harrison [44 Misc. 3d 428 , 986 N.Y.S.2d 837 , 838 (Sup. Ct. 2014)] cases.

Record Company Copyright Claims Against Amway Survive Dismissal

Alticor Inc. v. UMG  Recordings, Inc., No. 6:14-cv-542 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 10, 2015).

In a complex dispute between mutliple record companies and Amway concerning alleged direct, vicarious and contributory infringement of pre- and post-'72 sound recordings in over 1,000 videos, the Court dismissed Amway's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the record companies counter-claims.  First, the Court found that the record companies had adequately alleged violations of their exclusive right of public performance.  Amway argued that the "public performance right" applicable to musical compositions and other works was inapplicable to sound recordings; the Court rejected that argument.  Second, the Court found that even though the Copyright Act does not conver a "making available" right, the act of making a work available for use of a direct infringer was relevant to the record companies' indirect infringement claims.  Third, the Court agreed with Amway that Florida common law does not create a public performance right for pre-72 recordings, but nonetheless held that it would not grant Amway partial relief under Rule 12(b)(6).

Florida Court Rejects Pre-72 Sound Recording Rights in Turtles/Sirius Case; Contrary To NY and CA Decisions

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. SiriusXM, No. 13-23182-CIV-GAYLES/TURNOFF (S.D. Fla. dated June 22, 2015).

A Florida federal court granted defendant Sirius summary judgment as to liability on plaintiff Flo & Eddie's (the Turtle's) common-law copyright infringement claims, although New York and California courts have found differently.  The Florida federal court observed that Florida is different from New York and California, inasmuch as as there is no Florida legislation covering sound recordings nor is there a bevy of case law interpreting common law copyright related to the arts.  "The Court finds that the issue of whether copyright protection for pre- 1972 rec ordings should include the exclusive right to public performance is for the Florida legislature."  Accordingly, the Court found that Florida common law did not provie plaintiff with the exclusive right of public performance in the Turtles' sound recordings.  Further, the Court found that back-up and buffer copies made by Sirius were not unlawful reproductions.  Because the Court found that Sirius had not infringed any of Plaintiff's copyrights, the Court also dismissed plaintiff's related claims for unfair competition, conversion and civil theft (all of which were based on alleged copyright infiringement).

Class Certification Granted In Turtles' Pre-'72 Copyright Case Against Sirius

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., No. 13-5693 (C.D. Cal. 5/27/2015).

In the copyright infringement action against Sirius satellite radio alleging copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings, the the District Court granted plaintiff's motion for class certification.  Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, the plaintiff must establish certain requirements that are often referred t as numerosity, commonality,
typicality, adequacy, predominance, and superiority.

As a threshold matter, the Court found Defendants' argument unpersuasive that class certification was improper because there had already been a finding of liability at summary judgment as to the named plaintiffs. Sirius argued that class certification would violate "the one-way intervention rule", which is the intervention
of a plaintiff in a class action after an adjudication favoring the class has taken place.  Such intervention is termed ‘one way’ because the plaintiff would not otherwise be bound by an adjudication in favor of the defendant occurring at that point in the litigation.  The Court found that Sirius had waived the protection of this rule because Sirius XM requested early summary judgment briefing, failed to raise a firm pre-judgment objection to Plaintiff's motion, and actually decided to adopt Plaintiff's motion as its own early liability decision vehicle.

The Court then turned to the Rule 23 class certification requirements.  First, it found that class members -- owners of pre-72 sound recordings -- were ascertainable by turning to a number of sources who license such sound recordings, and Sirius has a list of all of the songs it had played.  Next, the Court found that the proposed class of hundreds, if not thousands, of owners in sound recordings satisfied the numerosity requirement.  Typicality was also satisfied because the members of the proposed class will each claim injury based on Sirius performing their pre-1972 recordings without authorization. Sirius XM’s unauthorized
performance of plaintiff's recordings, the wrongful conduct at issue in this litigation, is not unique to these plaintiffs; rather, it is consistent with Sirius XM’s general practice as to pre-1972 recordings.  Next, the Court found commonality and adequacy of the named plaintiff's representation of the class.  The Court then considered the remainder of the Rule 23 requirements, and found them satisfied.  In short, the Court concluded that a class action is superior to individual litigation to the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

Pre-Trial Evidentiary Rulings In Grooveshark Case

UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Escape Media Group, No.11-cv-8407 (SDNY filed 04/23/15) [Doc. 174].

In advance of a jury trial on statutory damages, the Court made a number of pre-trial evidentiary determinations on motions in limine.  Among its holdings as to what the parties could or could not introduce at trial, the Court held that defendants were precluded from offering argument or evidence contesting that their conduct was willful or in bad faith (the jury would be instructed that there was a cap of $150,000 per work, not $30,000), but defendants were permitted to present proof as to the degree and extent of their willfulness.  As to Defendants' argument that Plaintiffs could receive statutory damages for infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings (or that the Court had jurisdiction over such claims), the Court reserved decision.  The Court also made several rulings as to what evidence Defendants could introduce concerning their failure to mitigate damages defense (e..g, concerning settlement and future licensing negotiations, failure to make claims against other infringers, DMCA compliance

Ghostface Killa Case, Involving "Iron Man Theme" Sample, Dismissed

Urbont v. Sony Music Entertainment et al., No, 11-cv-94516 (S.D.N.Y. April 20, 2015) [Doc. 78].

The Court granted Sony Music summary judgment dismissing the claims of plaintiff, who alleged infringement of his rights to the musical composition and sound recording of the "Iron Man Theme" in a Ghostface Killa song.  Sony successfully challenged plaintiff's ownership of a copyright interest in the song by establishing that the composition was a "work for hire" and was therefore owned by Marvel Comics, for whom plaintiff created the composition.  Notably, the Court found that Sony -- a third-party to that transaction -- had standing to challenge plaintiff's ownership under the work for hire doctrine pursuant to the 1909 Act's "instance and expense" test.

The Court also dismissed Plaintiff's state law claims for common law copyright infringement, unfair competition, and misappropriation, finding that the claims were preempted by the Copyright Act.  Plaintiff argued that the recording fell within the exception to pre-emption as a sound recording fixed before February 15, 1972.  17 U.S.C. 301.  The Court disagreed, finding that the recording was an "audiovisual work" and not a "sound recording" because it was created purely to accompany the television show Iron Man and did not exist apart from the accompanying televisuals.  Under the 1976 Act, the claims were preempted because they involve an audiovisual work.

Appeals Court To Hear Sirius's Pre-72 Case

Sirius XM Radio, Inc. v. Flo & Eddie, Inc.; No. 15-497, (2d Cir. 04/15/2015) (Doc. 30).

In the pre-1972 sound recording case between Sirius XM and the Turtles, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted Sirius XM's petition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1292(b), for leave to appeal the district court’s orders denying summary judgment and reconsideration.  Generally, federal appellate courts have limited jurisdiction over interlocutory decisions (e.g., injunctions).  However, the appellate court has discretion to permit an appeal from an interlocutory appeal when the district judge is explicitly of the opinion that the order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.  28 U.S.C. 1292(b).

Interlocutory Appeal Granted In Turtles/Sirius Case

Flo & Eddie v. Sirius, No. 1:13-cv-05784-CM (SDNY filed 02/10/15) (Doc. 118).

The District Court certified for interlocutory appeal to the Second Circuit the question: "Under New York law, do the holders of common law copyrights in pre-1972 sound recordings have, as part of the bundle or rights attendant to their copyright, the right to exclusive public performance of those sound recordings?"  Having certified the question for interlocutory appeal, the District Court stayed all proceedings pending a decision by the Second Circuit.