UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Escape Media Group, Inc.,
Users of Grooveshark can upload audio files (typically songs) to an archive maintained on defendant's computer servers, and other users can search those servers and stream recordings to their own computers or other electronic devices.
The motion court denied plaintiff's motion, relying heavily on Capitol Records, Inc. v MP3tunes, LLC (821 F Supp 2d 627 [SDNY 2011]), in which the United States district court tackled precisely the same issue and found that the DMCA embraced sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972. The Appellate Court reversed.
First, the Court found that applying the DMCA to pre-1972 recordings would violate Section 301(c) of the Copyright Act. "Had the DMCA never been enacted, there would be no question that UMG could sue defendant in New York state courts to enforce its copyright in the pre-1972 recordings, as soon as it learned that one of the recordings had been posted on Grooveshark. However, were the DMCA to apply as defendant believes, that right to immediately commence an action would be eliminated. Indeed, the only remedy available to UMG would be service of a takedown notice on defendant. This is, at best, a limitation on UMG's rights, and an implicit modification of the plain language of section 301(c). The word "limit" in 301(c) is unqualified, so defendant's argument that the DMCA does not contradict that section because UMG still retains the right to exploit its copyrights, to license them and to create derivative works, is without merit. Any material limitation, especially the elimination of the right to assert a common-law infringement claim, is violative of section 301(c) of the Copyright Act." Continuing, the Court found "there is no reason to conclude that Congress recognized a limitation on common-law copyrights posed by the DMCA but intended to implicitly dilute section 301(c) nonetheless. ... Congress explicitly, and very clearly, separated the universe of sound recordings into two categories, one for works "fixed" after February 15, 1972, to which it granted federal copyright protection, and one for those fixed before that date, to which it did not. Defendant has pointed to nothing in the Copyright Act or its legislative history which prevents us from concluding that Congress meant to apply the DMCA to the former category, but not the latter."
Second, the Court rejected Grooveshark's argument that the very purpose of the DMCA will be thwarted if it is deemed not to apply to the pre-1972 recordings. "The statutory language at issue involves two equally clear and compelling Congressional priorities: to promote the existence of intellectual property on the Internet, and to insulate pre-1972 sound recordings from federal regulation. As stated above, it is not unreasonable, based on the statutory language and the context in which the DMCA was enacted, to reconcile the two by concluding that Congress intended for the DMCA only to apply to post-1972 works."