A big week for copyrights and piracy

August 2009

Internet, telephony, music publishing

Whilst the sale of The Pirate Bay website to a Swedish gaming software business might have grabbed the headlines alongside the Jammie Thomas appeal and the Usenet decision, two other developments in U.S. courts are seemingly more important to the average music fan because of the potential they have for disrupting digital services. The first is the latest lawsuit filed by MCS Music America of Nashville and a dozen other music publishers against the operators of two current and one former subscription-music services. The suit seeks a hefty financial penalty from the companies for including the publishers’ songs in their services, even though federal law compels the publishers to grant the necessary licenses. The second is a move by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to have a federal court declare that cellphone ringtones aren’t downloads but rather public performances for which they are entitled royalties. In other words, ASCAP argues that playing a 15-second snippet of a song when a call comes in is the legal equivalent of blasting the song over the speakers at a hockey rink. In fact, ASCAP argues, it’s an infringement even with the volume turned off. The two cases illustrate the minefield that copyright law presents to companies that dare to venture into the digital music business.
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