UMG Recordings., Inc. v. Escape Media Group, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright, DCMA
  • Date Filed: 04-23-2013
  • Case #: 100152/10, 9099
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2013 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2642
  • Westlaw Citation: 2013 WL 1729431
  • Full Text Opinion

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act does not shield Internet file sharing services from common-law copyright infringement suits on pre February 15, 1972 recordings.

Opinion (Mazzarelli): Escape Media (“Escape”) developed and operates a music streaming service named Grooveshark. Grooveshark allows Internet users to upload music files to Escape’s servers. Users may also search and stream from Escape’s servers. UMG Recordings (“UMG”) owns the rights to many musical recordings, some of which were recorded before February 15, 1972. UMG brought suit against Escape claiming copyright infringement of UMG’s pre-1972 recordings.Though Escape acknowledges that it cannot assure that no files on the Grooveshark system infringe on any copyrights, Escape asserted the affirmative defense that its operations are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"). UMG moved to strike this affirmative defense. The trial court refused to strike the defense and UMG appealed. UMG argued that because the Copyright act of 1971 covered only recordings fixed after February 15, 1972, the DMCA only provides safe harbor to works recorded after that date. UMG further argued that, because the DMCA does not shield Escape from suit for infringement on pre-1972 works, UMG may assert common-law copyright claims against Escape. Escape counter-argued that the congressional intent behind the DMCA was to shield all Internet operators from copyright suits of this kind, whether they be common-law copyright suits or copyright suits under the Copyright Act of 1971. The Court, when interpreting the Copyright Act as a whole, concluded that Congress showed a clear intent to separate audio recordings between pre- and post-1972. The Court ruled that the DMCA does not cover pre-1972 recordings, and that Escape's affirmative defense on that issue should be struck. Accordingly, the Court GRANTED UMG's motion to dismiss Escape's affirmative defense.

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