US court rules for music companies in MP3tunes copyright case

The rulings marked the latest turn in protracted court battles between the music industry and online content providers


The court also reversed a ruling dismissing claims that MP3tunes permitted copyright infringement for pre-2007 MP3s and Beatles songs. Photo: AFP
The court also reversed a ruling dismissing claims that MP3tunes permitted copyright infringement for pre-2007 MP3s and Beatles songs. Photo: AFP

New York: A US appeals court ruled on Tuesday that record companies and music publishers that once formed part of EMI Group Ltd could pursue additional copyright infringement claims in a long-running lawsuit over defunct online music storage firm MP3tunes.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York also rejected an appeal by MP3tunes founder Michael Robertson, who was ordered to pay $12.2 million after a federal jury in 2014 found him liable for copyright infringement.

The rulings marked the latest turn in protracted court battles between the music industry and online content providers. They followed prior copyright litigation that led to the shutdown of another company Robertson founded, MP3.com.

Founded in 2005, initially as a website selling independent musicians’ songs, San Diego-based MP3tunes came to be known for its so-called cloud music service that allowed users to store music in online lockers.

In a lawsuit filed in 2007, EMI Group Ltd contended the MP3tunes website and a related one called Sideload.com enabled the infringement of copyrights in sound recordings, musical compositions and cover art.

EMI was split up after the lawsuit’s filing, with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group buying its recording music business and a consortium led by Sony Corp acquiring its publishing arm.

At trial, a federal jury in Manhattan in 2014 awarded the EMI companies nearly $48.1 million, a sum US district judge William Pauley in Manhattan later reduced, resulting in a $12.2 million judgment against Robertson.

On appeal, the music companies contended Pauley’s pre-trial rulings restricted them from pursuing other claims.

They argued Pauley wrongly concluded MP3tunes was eligible for safe harbour protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by meeting a requirement that service providers adopt and implement a policy for terminating repeat infringers.

In Tuesday’s ruling, a three-judge appellate panel rejected Pauley’s narrow definition of “repeat infringer” as only covering users who upload infringing content, rather than ones who downloaded songs for personal entertainment.

“In the context of this case, all it takes to be a ‘repeat infringer’ is to repeatedly upload or download copyrighted material for personal use,” US circuit judge Raymond Lohier wrote.

The court also reversed a ruling dismissing claims that MP3tunes permitted copyright infringement for pre-2007 MP3s and Beatles songs.

The 2nd Circuit rejected Robertson’s own appeal, saying “the evidence showed that Robertson acted in a manner intended to promote infringement.”

Ira Sacks, a lawyer for Robertson, declined comment. The music companies’ lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is EMI Christian Music Group, Inc et al. v. MP3tunes, Llc et al, 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-4369. Reuters

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