Concert Archive Draws Digital Suit

By Richard Menta 12/19/06

Baby boomers can appreciate a site like Wolfgang's Vault. It's not a site about Mozart, rather it is an archive of performances by mostly 60's and 70's artists who were filmed while performing at Bill Graham's famous clubs the Filmore Auditorium, and the Filmore East and West. Wolgang founder William Sagan purchased the footage from Clear Channel Communications for $5 million and put the concerts online. Several of the artists showcased are now suing Sagan, claiming that while Graham owned the footage, they still own the digital rights. The plaintiffs include Carlos Santana and surviving members of Led Zeppelin and the Doors.

The suit highlights yet another gray area of copyright law. In book publishing the creator of a work only sells rights that are specifically named in the contract. Since most contracts preceed the relatively new development of digital rights they are theoretically retained by the artists.

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The music industry claims otherwise, saying that they acquire all rights from the artists when they originally contract with them, even those not yet in existance. When Sagan purchased the archives he did so under this assumption. The problem is the courts have never fully tested this assumption.

If this case is not settled out of court it could lead to the eventual clarification of digital rights ownership. But Sagan is not a huge corporation like Clear Channel and so he may choose to settle.

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