In Ruling That Hurts Musicians, CBS Dodges Royalties As Court Declares Re-Mastered Songs Get New Copyright
UPDATED: The court and legislative battles over the copyrights and royalties of pre-1972 recordings caused by an anomaly in decades old law just got much, much messier thanks to an unexpected court ruling in a case brought against CBS Radio.
A judge has ruled that re-mastered recordings deserve brand new copyright protection.
The owner of a number of pre-1972 recordings by Al Green and others has sued CBS Radio for playing their recordings without authorization. Protection for pre-1972 recordings is currently the subject of numerous litigation thanks to an anomaly in copyright law,
In a risky legal maneuver, CBS argued that the recordings were not covered because they were remasters and thus constituted a new recording. In a surprise decision that goes contrary to all previous litigation in similar cases, the judge agreed.
"The Court finds that on the record before it, Plaintiffs’ pre-1972 Sound Recordings have undergone sufficient changes during the remastering process to qualify for federal copyright protection. For example, for Ace Cannon’s “Tuff,” Dr. Begault found that the CBS version had additional reverberation, was played in a different musical key and at a faster tempo, and differed in the musical performance…. Additionally, many of the remastered versions included different channel assignments and adjustments in equalization… the changes reflect “multiple kinds of creative authorship, such as adjustments of equalization, sound editing, and channel assignment.”
"… For the 57 works reviewed by both parties’ experts, the Court finds that the changes made during the remastering process were original within the meaning of the Copyright Act, and are thus entitled to federal copyright protection."
Bad News For Artists / Good News For Labels
Radio wins, of course, but if the ruling stands, labels can also now effectively retain the copyrights to works forever by "remastering" the recordings and applying for new copyrights.
Artists who were expecting to get their works back after 35 years are out of luck, as the ownership of their original recordings remains either in limbo or fighting against competing "new" versions of their work.