McKool Smith Hennigan Principal Robert Allen represents ABS Entertainment and other sound recording owners in a royalty dispute against CBS concerning remastered songs originally recorded by Al Green, Jackie Wilson and others before 1972. CBS told a Ninth Circuit panel on November 9, 2017 that remastered versions are fundamentally different enough from the originals to qualify for federal copyright protection. The appeal presents a novel question about a legal gray area of copyright law in the music world — songs recorded before 1972 are protected by state laws rather than federal copyright law, which has never required royalty payments for public performance. But Robert argued for ABS Entertainment and other rights holders that other the lower court incorrectly applied federal copyright law, as there is a “brightline rule” over whether sounds were “initially fixed” before or after the 1972 cutoff date. “Nobody went back into the studio and recorded any new sounds,” he said.
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