Seattle professor loses copyright claim over classical music use

February 2012

Live music industry, music publishing

The lead plaintiff challenging a U.S. copyright law says the works of some important 20th Century composers will now be effectively off limits to orchestras in small and middle-sized cities after the US Supreme Court upheld a decision that extends copyright protection to books, musical compositions and other works by foreign artists that had previously been available without paying royalties. The law stems from US legislation bringing S514 of the Uruguay Round Agreement Act (URAA) into US law. University of Denver music professor Lawrence Golan says the ruling will make it too expensive for smaller orchestras to perform works by composers such as Shostakovich and Stravinsky. Golan, a violinist, is also the conductor of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra He had hoped to have it open the new season with a celebratory Shostakovich concert but now plans to feature Tchaikovsky instead. The Supreme Court upheld a 1994 federal law that gave copyright protection to millions of foreign-produced books, movies and musical pieces. The 6-2 ruling takes works by Alfred Hitchcock, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky and J.R.R. Tolkien out of the public domain, barring use without permission of the copyright owner. The decision is being hailed as  a victory for the film and music industries and a setback for Google Inc.’s effort to create an online library. In dissent, Justice Breyer said the law went beyond Congress’s constitutional power to confer copyrights for the purpose of promoting science and knowledge.

Read more: and  Golan v. Holder, Attorney general et al (2012) 10-545.

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