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UMG Recordings Inc. v Escape Media Group Inc.

By Barry Werbin

Attached is a copy of the First Department's unanimous reversal of Justice Kapnick's prior decision in UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Escape Media Group, Inc., which held that pre-1972 sound recordings were covered by the DMCA despite such works not being covered by the Copyright Act. UMG Recordings Inc v Escape Media Group Inc.pdf The First Department noted that Justice Kapnick's decision had relied "heavily on Capitol Records, Inc. v MP3tunes, LLC (821 F Supp 2d 627 [SD NY 2011]), in which the United States district court tackled precisely the same issue and found that the DMCA embraced sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972."

The Court held that to adopt defendant's view "would directly violate section 301(c) of the Copyright Act." Instead, it adopted UMG's view that "Section 301(c) forbids the Act from 'annull[ing]' or 'limit[ing]' the common-law rights and remedies of owners of such works, and the DMCA, if it were to bar infringement actions against Internet companies that otherwise comply with the DMCA, would do just that." The Court observed that in the absence of the DMCA, "there would be no question that UMG could sue defendant in New York state courts to enforce its copyright in the pre-1972 recordings, as soon as it learned that one of the recordings had been posted on Grooveshark [defendant's Internet music streaming service]." Thus, any "material limitation" on a copyright owner's New York common law rights, "especially the elimination of the right to assert a common-law infringement claim, is violative of section 301(c) of the Copyright Act."

Further, in reading the Act as a whole, the Court emphasized that the DMCA's textual references to "copyright" or "copyright infringers" pertains "only to those works covered by the DMCA. The DMCA expressly identifies the rights conferred by the Copyright Act in stating who a 'copyright infringer' is for purposes of the DMCA. Had Congress intended to extend the DMCA's reach to holders of common-law rights it would have not have provided so narrow a definition."

Lastly, the Court reconciled two underling policies: "The statutory language at issue involves two equally clear and compelling Congressional priorities: to promote the existence of intellectual property on the Internet, and to insulate pre-1972 sound recordings from federal regulation. As stated above, it is not unreasonable, based on the statutory language and the context in which the DMCA was enacted, to reconcile the two by concluding that Congress intended for the DMCA only to apply to post-1972 works."

In conclusion, the Court suggested that "it would be far more appropriate for Congress, if necessary, to amend the DMCA to clarify its intent, than for this Court to do so by fiat."

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