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August 2022

Phonorecords and forfeiture of common-law copyright in music

Journal/Book: Wash Law Rev. 1996; 71: Washington Law Review, 1100 NE Campus Parkway, 410 Condon Hall, Seattle, WA 98105. Univ Washington School of Law. 151-176.

Abstract: A highly disputed issue surrounding the Copyright Act of 1909 is whether the public distribution and sale of recordings of a musical work constitutes ''publication.'' Historically, unless the author followed the Act's formal requirements for obtaining statutory protection, publication injected the musical work irrevocably into the public domain. In a 1995 decision, La Cienega Music Co. v. ZZ Top, the Ninth Circuit unwisely broke from the tradition and common understanding in the music industry by holding that phonorecord distribution is a publication of musical compositions. After examining the history and purpose of the Copyright Act, as well as the legal precedents, this Comment argues that Congress did not intend phonorecords to be capable of publication. Besides being unfair to composers of original works, the court has created a split among the circuits that should be resolved.

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