Today, the New York Court of Appeals, in response to a question certified from the Second Circuit (after being certified for interlocutory review by Judge McMahon), held that New York common-law copyright law does not recognize a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings predating the 1972 federal Copyright Act. The question was certified as part of a putative class action of artists of pre-1972 sound recordings (led by The Turtles, who wrote “Happy Together”) seeking royalties from Sirius XM Radio for allegedly playing recordings without permission.
The court declined to announce a new common law right for pre-1972 recordings and instead looked to the legislature:
Simply stated, New York’s common-law copyright has never recognized a right of public performance for pre-1972 sound recordings. Because the consequences of doing so could be extensive and far-reaching, and there are many competing interests at stake, which we are not equipped to address, we decline to create such a right for the first time now. Even the District Court here, while finding the existence of a common-law copyright of public performance in sound recordings, acknowledged that such a right was “unprecedented,” would upset settled expectations, and would “have significant economic consequences.” Under these circumstances, the recognition of such a right should be left to the legislature.
Our full coverage of the case is here.