Copyright law challenged with digitally remastered works

Artists, musicians and other creative types in New York and across the country can be grateful for the laws that protect their works from others who would try to use them for their own benefit. Complex copyright law changes frequently, and some state laws fill in gaps that exist in federal law. For example, while federal law includes music that was composed before 1972, it covers sound recordings only after 1972. Some state laws protect pre-1972 sound recordings of those songs. A recent legal decision addressed the question of remastered recordings.

CBS faced a lawsuit filed by ABS Entertainment, owner of many songs recorded before 1972. ABS accused CBS of neglecting to pay state fees on these songs. However, since the recordings of the songs CBS aired were remastered after 1972, CBS contended that they fell under the federal exemption in which traditional broadcasters do not owe royalties. With this argument, CBS won at the district court level, but ABS won on appeal.

The appeals court agreed that remastering songs requires some creative work by sound engineers. However, the court rejected the CBS argument that remastered songs are derivative and not the same recordings as the originals. As a result, CBS and other broadcasters are responsible for the appropriate state fees for songs recorded before 1972, even if they are remastered versions.

Copyright law and the recent changes in royalty eligibility have created many controversies. Streaming radio, for example, does not receive the exemptions that broadcast radio does. However, even with the rapid changes in law, New York attorneys keep up with the adjustments so they can provide quality advice and guidance for anyone dealing with violations of their creative rights.

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