Sony in Beatles copyright infringement battle
Written by Ellis Sweetenham on 11 July 2015« Return to Reading Room
Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC v WMPC Ltd  EWHC 1853 (Ch)
The claimants are the largest music publishing company in the world and are co-owned by Sony and The Estate of Michael Jackson.
They alleged that the defendants had infringed their copyright in songs by "The Beatles".
The defendant created a documentary containing a recording of the group's first US concert performance.
The first claimant owned the worldwide copyrights in eight of the songs performed during the concert, and the second claimant was the exclusive UK licensee of the copyright works.
From 2009 to late 2010, the defendant had negotiated with the claimants to allow it to reproduce the copyright works as part of the soundtrack of a proposed documentary, but no licence was executed.
The claimants later discovered that the defendants had made a documentary containing the concert footage. The documentary had been made in the UK but its target market was the US, and the infringement claim concerned the claimants' UK and US copyrights.
The defendant stated that, firstly, a binding contract had been created with the claimants which meant they were obliged to issue a synchronisation licence which would give the defendants permission to use the songs.
Secondly, the claimants could not deny the granting of a synchronisation licence since they had stated permission would be granted if the documentary met certain conditions.
And to conclude, the defendants stated that under US law, fair use of a copyright was not an infringement.
The defendants had never accepted any offer from the claimants for permission to use the songs on the terms suggested.
Furthermore, the claimants had also clearly indicated that they would not grant a synchronisation licence (permission) unless and until they had seen and approved the final documentary which had not been produced when negotiations were taking place.
In this case, the defendants had used the copyright work to create a documentary for commercial purposes. In addition they had used the copyright works in their entirety. Lastly, it was likely that the documentary would damage the market for, or potential value of, the sale of recordings of the works.
Therefore, the inclusion of the copyright works in the documentary did not amount to fair use.
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