Court Rules Musicians Do Not Own the Digital Rights to Their Songs.

By Robert Menta- 12/08/00

A federal court judge in NY made the issue of digital music even more incendiary with a ruling that stripped several 'oldies' artists of their digital music rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff - the same judge who oversaw the recently settled MP3.com/Universal lawsuit - dismissed a suit against both the major record labels and MP3.com by several artists who claim they are owed online royalties. The judge ruled the musicians seeking these royalties do not own the digital rights to the songs they recorded decades earlier.



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Rakoff dismissed the suit filed by the artists including the Coasters and the Drifters saying they forfeited these rights under the terms of the contracts they signed back in the 1950s and 1960s. It is interesting that both MP3.com and Big Music, who have battled most of this year, are on the same side here.

10 years ago no one could have predicted the rise of the Internet, let alone digital rights to online music. Only 2 years ago, the major labels found themselves caught flatfooted with regards to the evolution of this growing industry. One has to wonder how the terms of 40 and 50 year-old contracts could sufficiently apply enough to deny artists these technology rights. According to copyright law, the rights to the music are to return to the artist after 35 years. This ruling supersedes that concept, in practice reversing it.

MP3.com, who split sales revenue with its artists 50/50, is fighting off all sides who are self-proclaiming ownership over the digital rights of music. From the major labels to the copyright holders to the music publishers to the artists themselves, all want control over the digital rights which many feel is worth in the billions. Big Music, the co-litigant, has so far come out way ahead garnering a $170 million settlement from MP3.com and some recognized authority over these rights. As for the people who made the music in the first place, this ruling effectively shuts them out.

Legal council for the musicians did not say if they would appeal the decision. The appeals process is a lengthy and costly one and if this ruling should stand it becomes a national precedent that will reverberate throughout the online and music communities.

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