Common law copyright in NY

Second Circuit Court of Appeals (Jun. 2004): Capitol Records v. Naxos

This appeal concerns issues of common law copyright under New York law. The allegedly infringing works are restorations of sound recordings of important classical performances originally recorded in England in the 1930s. Plaintiff-Appellant Capitol Records, Inc. (“Capitol”) appeals from the judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Robert W. Sweet, District Judge) dismissing its suit against Defendant-Appellee Naxos of America, Inc. (“Naxos”). We conclude that the appeal raises unsettled issues of state law that are appropriate for certification to the New York Court of Appeals.…
What may well be the dispositive issue in this case–whether a common law copyright under New York law expires when the work enters the public domain in the country of origin–has never been decided by any New York court, as far as our research discloses. The lack of a state law answer to what may prove to be a determinative question, as well as the absence of any indication of how New York would answer this question, weigh in favor of certification.…
We will therefore certify the following question: “In view of the District Court’s assessment of the undisputed facts, but without regard to the issue of abandonment, is Naxos entitled to defeat Capitol’s claim for infringement of common law copyrights in the original recordings?” This overall question subsumes the following sub-questions: (1) “Does the expiration of the term of a copyright in the country of origin terminate a common law copyright in New York?” (2) “Does a cause of action for common law copyright infringement include some or all of the elements of unfair competition?” (3) “Is a claim of common law copyright infringement defeated by a defendant’s showing that the plaintiff’s work has slight if any current market and that the defendant’s work, although using components of the plaintiff’s work, is fairly to be regarded as a ‘new product’?”

The New York Court of Appeals issued a ruling today answering those questions under NY law: Capitol Records v. Naxos:

Neither federal statutory nor constitutional law prohibits the states from providing common-law protection to artistic works that are in the public domain in the counrty of origin.… Until 2067, no federal or state statutory impediment constricts this common-law durational component for pre-1972 sound recordings.
Causes for action for copyright infringement and unfair competition are not synonymous under New York law.
Thus, even assuming that Naxos has created a “new product” due to its remastering efforts that enhance sound quality,11 that product can be deemed to infringe on Capitol’s copyright to the extent that it utilizes the original elements of the protected performances.

Annotated decision: Capitol Records v. Naxos wiki
NY Law Journal: N.Y. High Court Expands Copyright Protection for Recordings: “With Tuesday’s decision, New York apparently stands alone in its common law protection of the intellectual property rights of composing artists. In a 36-page ruling written by Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, the court said the common law rights of performances, as opposed to published compositions, remain intact forever in New York. Practically speaking, though, federal law will pre-empt New York common law on Feb. 15, 2067.”
Ernest Miller: New York – Common Law Copyright Protects 50-Year Old Sound Recording
AP: Court Rules Common Law Protects Recordings: “New York’s highest court ruled Tuesday that common law protects a record company’s copyright on recordings made prior to 1972 – a decision that could have industrywide ramifications for everything from Bach to the Beatles.”
Scrivener’s Error: Diamonds May Not Be Forever, But the Recordings Are!???: “What troubles me more about Naxos is that it grasps one lacuna as evidence of positive intent, but refuses to grasp a directly relevant lacuna at all.”
(via How Appealing)