US Supreme Court Lets Stand Ruling That Says Music Downloads Are Not Public Performances

from the thank-goodness-for-little-things dept

Ah, ASCAP. The music collection group that keeps getting more and more desperate, seems to have finally and completely lost its quixotic attempt to claim that a music download represented a “public performance,” which required a separate license, beyond the mechanical reproduction license. The group had been in a legal fight with Yahoo and Rhapsody over whether or not those companies had to pay extra to songwriters (whom ASCAP represents) in addition to the money they were already paying to license songs from the record labels for downloads. The district court sided with ASCAP and presented a bizarre formula involving a percentage of all revenue (such that Yahoo would have to pay some of its search revenue to ASCAP for no clear reason). Thankfully, an appeals court overturned the ruling, noting that a download is not a public performance, and that the bizarre calculation rate didn’t make much sense. ASCAP (of course) appealed to the Supreme Court, which has declined to hear the case, meaning that the appeals court ruling stands. This isn’t a definitive rejection of “download = public performance,” as technically, it’s just the law in the Second Circuit. In theory, some other Circuit could rule otherwise, and create a circuit split for the Supremes to look at. But, that’s probably unlikely, and it’s most likely that this ruling effectively makes it clear across the country that a download is not a public performance. As it should be, because it’s not.

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Companies: ascap, rhapsody, yahoo

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Comments on “US Supreme Court Lets Stand Ruling That Says Music Downloads Are Not Public Performances”

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48 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

The supreme court didn’t “let stand”, they only declined to hear the case because there isn’t any different views between the circuits to resolve, no pressing issue that requires a resolution for the public. A decline isn’t anything other than a “hasn’t reached the level that we would spend time on it”.

If one of the other circuits is faced with a similar case and rules in the other direction, it might have the requirements to make it to the level of the supreme court. For now, there just isn’t enough conflict to make it worthwhile.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What do you mean?

Also, if they can’t get this to be a public performance then the artist’s kid(s) will starve. We must have this to save the children. And stop earthquakes. And terrorists. And communists. They started it all. If it weren’t for those stinkin commies we wouldn’t have this “free” stuff.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: What do you mean?

The magic pixies who live inside the thinking box, when you double click it they are forced to once again pick up their instruments and reproduce the drivel to appease their human captors.

The magic smoke one sometimes sees leaving a computer case is actually the souls of pixies pushed to far and to hard to reproduce to many songs in a public performance.

Before you torrent that next album, won’t you stop and think of the pixies?

/sallystuthers

surfer (profile) says:

u know..

when you download a digital copy, nobody references the license, the distribution right, the public performance right, geez, did I miss a right? My rights override your privilege every single day of the week, day, and hour.

Honestly, I didn’t even check who created the song, who cares what alphabet soup thinks I owe them money, because, well, I don’t owe them any.

you know they are getting desperate when they go after pre-schools for showing a Disney movie to children, that they actually paid for. That’s the limit, I paid for it, I shall perform as I please, public or otherwise.

but, but, think of the children,.. gag..

You call me a freetard, well, it’s because of the multitude of copyfraud going on, I sleep much better knowing that I didn’t actually pay for some inane license by some inane licensing copytard extorting copyfraud from the children.

Anonymous Coward says:

There seems to be a bit of confusion here. In the context of downloading a digital file, all parties agreed that a digital file is a copy as to which the right of reproduction pertains. Hence, a royalty was properly due. Where ASCAP went overboard was to then insist that an additional royalty was due because in its reading of Section 101 of the Copyright Act, the term “render”, associated with the definition of “performance”, could be interpreted to mean “deliver”. Of course, this was an overreach at odds with the overall structure of the act, as well as a conflation of the the performance right with the distribution right.

I mention this only because the article above refers to the general licenses granted to the defendants cover the use on their websites of music in the ASCAP repertoire. This license is separate and distinct from the rights associated with digital file downloads.

In view of the above, it seems clear why cert was denied. Clearly, both the district court and the appellate court got it right rejecting the mere download of a digital file as a public performance since at no time during the download was the work perceptible (i.e., one could listen to the music during the downloading process).

The Supreme Court is loathe to hear arguments in instances where no circuit split is presented, as well as in instances where it may believe the subordinate tribunal articulated a proper interpretation of a statute.

As for the royalty calculation, deference to an appellate decision is the norm absent truly exigent circumstances. Here the appellate court had sent the case back down to the district court for a “do over”. Certainly, the Supreme Court, operating with a limited time table for hearing cases, would not be inclined to interfere when a “do over” might render any subsequent decision by the trial court a moot question.

Anonymous Coward says:

But, that’s probably unlikely, and it’s most likely that this ruling effectively makes it clear across the country that a download is not a public performance.

LMAO, Pirate Mike! Who needs facts to write a story? Pirate Mike just pulls baseless opinions out of his ass. I’d love to hear the “logic” that went into this prognostication. I’m sure there was none. Faith-based FUD.

Pirate Mike doesn’t have any anything “real” to write about, apparently. No worries, we all know his fertile mind will create more FUD where none yet exists. That’s chubby’s specialty.

DannyB (profile) says:

Remember DVD rentals over the internet?

Remember that company that was renting a DVD and a DVD Player to you over the Internet and would then stream the DVD player’s output to your single viewing screen?

Didn’t the judge in that case say that it was a public performance because the service was available to all members of the public?

(Gee, shouldn’t Netflix, Amazon, or even Blockbuster, or all local DVD rental shops have to pay for public performances because their DVD’s are available to members of the public?)

RIchard Gadsden (profile) says:

Public performance

The intent of the public performance right law is that you can’t buy a record and then play it in public without paying the songwriter and singer for each performance.

Playing music in private is not a public performance.

Streaming is going to be interesting. The substantive question is “who is performing it?”. With a radio, for example, the answer is “the radio station” – which makes it a public performance by the radio station, for which they pay public performance rights. If you put a radio in a public place (e.g. a shop) then you, the radio-owner are also making a public performance, and you have to pay performance rights too.

With streaming, either the performer is the streaming service, performing the song to the public – in which case it is a public performance, or it is the listener at home, in which case it is not a public performance, but it is a distribution of the song from the service to the listener and then a private performance by the listener.

That’s what the courts will have to establish. It’s not obvious to me which one they will choose.

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