Bluebeat Claims It Owns Beatles Copyright By Re-recording Songs; Judge Disagrees

from the but-the-copyright-office dept

In the US, if you really want to “protect” your copyrighted works, you have to register the works. Unlike for a patent or a trademark, it’s pretty much a rubberstamp process. Every so often the Copyright Office will reject a registration, but it’s rare. It does still go through them all, though. Or at least it’s supposed to. However, we recently wrote about the weird case of the site Bluebeat.com selling Beatles MP3s for $0.25. We noted that nowhere on the site did the company explain how it had the rights to do so, but in its response to the lawsuit filed by EMI, it explained its bizarre logic.

Basically, the company claims it somehow re-recorded the songs via a “psycho-acoustic simulation” (don’t ask) and then added an image to the file, making it a totally new work (um… yeah). And then it registered the copyrights on those new recordings, claiming that the re-recording is a new work where Bluebeat.com actually owns the copyright. Its “proof” is that the Copyright Office okayed the registration — suggesting that the rubber stamp at the Copyright Office is a bit too quick at times. A judge isn’t buying it and has barred the sale of the MP3s for the time being (i.e., almost certainly forever). While it’s amusing to see Bluebeat’s tortured explanation, perhaps some of the blame needs to go to the Copyright Office for allowing these registrations in the first place. Of course, you have to wonder if this now also opens up Bluebeat to additional charges of false representation in registering the copyright…

In the meantime, some readers have noted that this is not the first time that the folks behind Bluebeat.com have had ridiculous interpretations of copyright law. Two and a half years ago, it sued Apple, Microsoft, RealNetworks and Adobe for not using the DRM created by Bluebeat’s parent company, Media Rights Technologies. Basically, the company claimed that by not preventing the ability to rip files, these companies were violating the DMCA. Of course, that makes no sense.

Given that it’s now twice that we’re seeing totally foreign interpretations of basic copyright law, it almost makes you wonder if the company is doing this to make a point about the ridiculousness of copyright law, rather than for any legitimate reasons. Either that, or the company actually thinks that filing lawsuits as publicity stunts is smart. I would imagine that a judicial slapdown might correct the folks behind Bluebeat and MRT of that notion.

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Companies: bluebeat, media rights technologies

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Comments on “Bluebeat Claims It Owns Beatles Copyright By Re-recording Songs; Judge Disagrees”

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37 Comments
Dementia (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course, once again, we won’t try to prove our point, we’ll just throw out some bogus statement and expect everyone to accept it at face value.

Just for the record, I don’t believe a “fully loaded automatic weapon in public” is a free speech issue. In point of fact, that would be a second amendment issue which, while related, is very different.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You missed the point. Often when items are tossed out as unconstitutional (they right to bear arms does not stop the government from regulating certain types of arms, example) the next step is the good old 1st amendment, claiming (whatever) is free speech.

Some copyright haters think that a 1st Amendment challenge to a system that has been around a couple of hundred years has merit. I will say, it has more merit than these idiots claiming copyright on stuff they know they don’t have copyright on. But that is the difference between zero and “just about zero”

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s well established that copyright and the First Amendment are in some state of conflict. There have been numerous lawsuits to try to deal with this, and the summation is that the courts find that, thanks to the idea/expression dichotomy and fair use, copyright law is mostly legal under the First Amendment, but there remain cases challenging this — especially given how much copyright law has changed in the past 200 years.

Oh broher. says:

Re: sheet music does this

With sheet music? Mozart? That’s a totally different issue. Anyone can record Mozart’s music, or create a printed work of it as sheet music, because it’s public domain. But, the recording of, or printed sheet music (the actual printed work) is copyrightable. The music itself is not.

You can record as much Mozart as you want, and own the copyright for the recording itself. You can also transcribe the music to notation, create a printed work from THAT, and copyright the printed work as well. They can only complain if you copy the printed work. They have nothing to say if you want to transcribe Mozart yourself and distribute it.

Benjamin (profile) says:

Copyright Office Overloaded

As I understand it, the Copyright Office does a cursory examination of registration applications to ensure something obviously non-copyrightable is rejected, but if there is any chance some part is copyrightable, it accepts the registration and then lets the owners and any infringers duke it out in court.

The Copyright Office has a major backlog as it is, so if it had to carefully ensure that every application was completely copyrightable and owned by the right people, it would need a lot more resources. I think moving all copyright cases to an adjudicative component of the Copyright Office is worth considering, but it would require more money and authority than the Office has right now.

zabbadae says:

Fraud

Their interpertation of copyright is way off. But by arguing that they made changes to the recordings they are in fact acknowledging that they defrauded their customers, because no where does it state that you were buying “Altered versions or recordings” of the music. In fact they list the record companies when listing the albums, and make every effort to cause one to believe they were buying original tracks. This would have been akin to selling tickets to see the Beatles prior to lennon’s death and then having Beatlemania (the tribute band) perform instead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Almost. You get the copyrights from photographing paintings, so says the National Portrait Gallery(http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090713/0203135526.shtml).

When you photograph a photograph, you are still creating something new(?) so of COURSE you get the copyright on it.

Now we just need the final step where by having the copyright of the photo of the photo, you get to take ownership of the source photo’s copyrights. And we are SO close too!(http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080509/0229381071.shtml) Just need to turn it to work the other way too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is it that different than...

It is an odd claim. However…
I take the sheet music from Mozart, change one note, and get a cheap band to play it. I have three brand new copyrights, all are considered legit at this point in time. A copyright on the sheet music, a copyright on the arrangement I got together, and a copyright on the music itself. After all, that is how WGM and other music groups can take down classical music from Youtube.

The only difference here is that instead of a human band, they used computers. Instead of a new group of singers, they used voice synthesizers. And we KNOW that the Recording is a COMPLETELY different copyright then either the sheet music or lyrics.

So, really, is their claim THAT out of left field?

And that is not even considering the companies that reprint Mark Twain and claim a new copyright due to formatting or page numbering, or movie reprints of Nosferatu with copyrights on how since it is on a DVD instead of the original tape it is covered by a new copyright. Honestly, this seems almost LOGICAL when examined side by side with those other examples.

That said, it is all BS.

zabbadae says:

Anonymous Coward: First Apple Itunes doesn’t claim to alter the music that you hear, nor do they claim to own the copyright, and they, the label and the artists are in agreement that the MP3 recording although in a different media which has characteristics different from other media represents the original recording to a degree that they are essentially the same thing. Bluebeat specifically states that they have altered them to the point that they are no longer bound by their original copyright and that makes it fraud when they sell them as true to the original.

zabbadae says:

Anonymous Coward

First Mozart’s music is not protected by copyright laws, recording of them most likely are . But you are wrong that in changing one note constitutes a new piece of work. Ask George Harrison who was sued for stealing the music for My Sweet Lord. There has to be a significant change in the works to be considered a new work. Odly Parodies do not break copyright laws (i.e. Weird Al).

Now even if they used new musiciansor computers the music itself is still copyrighted and they must get permission to record them and pay for that right.

Mark Twains works are no longer under copyright, so actually anyone can release a copy of his works legally, although you would have to make sure you copied the original works and not any that may have been produced with additional content that might fall under copyright law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright Office

Most copyright offices do no work to check that the work is actually original or not. All copyright registration at the copyright office does is two things:

1) It establishes a presumption that the work actually existed at the time you’ve registered it, and that you own it. This presumption is rebuttable by evidence (ie, as it will be in this case).
2) In Canada, it eliminates the defence of ‘innocent infringement’ (which, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist in the US, and probably won’t exist in Canada after the next round of copyright ‘reforms’).

There’s no real way that the copyright office can check and make sure something is original for most works. Sure, they could spend a ton of effort skimming for stuff like this, but it’s not really worth it. A copyright registration isn’t worth all that much (it’s not like a patent registration or trademark registration where the actual getting of the thing registered takes work and is an accomplishment).

zabbadae says:

National Museum

You only can own the photography rights if you take pictures in the public domain, (otherwise you can be sued for copyright infringement, and it also depends on your use of the photograph.

Now if I take a photo of a photo, my photo may be copyrighted but usually only if it varies from the original, but if I sell it as the original photo that is fraud.

zabbadae says:

Copyright office

Your right the Copyright office usually rubberstamps everything, there is really no good way for them to be able to compare every thing that comes in to everything else that has already been copyrighted. But it does give a time and date as to when it was supposed to be original work. (actually your original works are copyrighted even these feedback comments without need of going through the copyright office, but getting an actual copyright can make your case stronger should you wish to go after someone for copyright infringement. So being granted a copyrightdoes not mean that you are the owner, only that you proclaim to be, after that it is up to the corts to decide.

Anonymous1 says:

Your right the Copyright office usually rubberstamps everything, there is really no good way for them to be able to compare every thing that comes in to everything else that has already been copyrighted…

Yes sooo difficult.

Type in X web address, look at catalouge in question, determine if said works are owned by claimed owner.

LOL. STOP DEFENDING INCOMPETENCE, AND POORLY RUN GOVERNMENT PLEASE. Good points otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

17 U.S.C. sec 114 exemption

Basically, the company claims it somehow re-recorded the songs via a “psycho-acoustic simulation”…

They probably did as that’s exactly how MP3 recordings are created. An algorithm is used to analyze the spectral content of a source and then psycho-acoustic models are used to estimate how it would be perceived by a human listener. The algorithm then creates a recording that, when played back with an appropriate device, can imitate or simulate that effect on the listener so that to the listener it sounds about the same due to psycho-acoustic effects.

Now, what about 17 U.S.C. sec 114? Well, it has an exemption concerning sound recordings that “imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording” that exempts them from claims of infringement.

See Bluebeat’s point?

Of course, strictly following the law in this case would be politically incorrect and most judges, including this one, are all about political correctness. All the judge had to do was just declare that the MP3 process has not been “proven” to operate as described above and, poof, no more exemption. And of course the judge himself is the arbiter of what is and isn’t proven. A bit of legal fiction to get the job done.

anon says:

hmmm

http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/11/copyright-time-bomb-set-to-disrupt-music-publishing-industries/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wired%2Findex+%28Wired%3A+Index+3+%28Top+Stories+2%29%29

Not entirely crazy, especially if you read that. If you don’t, short: 76 copyright act sunsets start soon, and a great deal of huge selling records are going to get returned to the artists that recorded them if they file for them, bands like the Eagles and other late 70’s/early 80’s bands to start. The RIAA has already tried to make that not happen with one sentence of language in an unrelated bill that would have made them all works for hire. One of their new arguments is that if they remaster digital versions of analog recordings, the can give the analog back and say the digitals are new recordings that they still own. Bluebeat is taking it a bit more extreme, but RIAA makes arguments that are just as totally beyond the pale, and might make that exact one to protect some very profitable catalogs from reverting to popular artists that certainly are not getting what they are paying for on their copyright, they don’t need to establish a name, they don’t need mass produced disk printing. If they can sell their songs themselves for the cost of bandwidth and print to order solid state media, it will be a big step to the RIAA getting choked out, because they are not worth the cut they take to bands and artists that have a multi generation fanbase, and they know it, so they will say and do anything to hold on to the masters they have. Bluebeat was dumb to try this with the beatles catalog, which has a complicated ownership at the moment, and is really really insanely high profile. Without bluebeat doing what they did, the RIAA or any of their client companies would have picked a smaller, quieter catalog to try this argument on first and see if it held water with any judge they go to lunch with.

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