The Law of the Internet – Copyright

By:  Rob Hassett

Hassett Cohen Goldstein, LLP

990 Hammond Drive

Suite 990 Atlanta, GA 30328

(770) 393-0990

The writer wishes to thank his wife, Lynn Hassett, an attorney in his law firm, and Adam Alexander, formerly a law student at Emory University Law School, now practicing law at the firm of Cooper & Scully, PC in Dallas, Texas, for their help in preparing this section of these materials.

Background and Summary

This article first appeared in the program materials for the internet law seminar sponsored by NBI, Inc. which was held in Atlanta, Georgia on February 18, 1998. This intermediate level article addresses the subject of copyright law as it relates to the internet. (18 Pages)


Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States reads in pertinent part:

The Congress shall have power …;


To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Protection of works of authorship that are fixed in any “tangible medium of expression” is governed by Chapters 1 through 8 and Chapter 10 of Title 17 of the United States Code.(1) State law with respect to such works is pre-empted by federal law.(2) State law still applies with respect to rights in sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972 and with respect to works that are not fixed in any tangible medium of expression.

The United States has been a party to numerous treaties regarding copyright law. The most important treaty is the Berne Convention to which the United States became a party in 1989. The Berne Convention provides that each member nation will protect the works of each other member nation’s citizens at least as well as it protects the works of its own citizens; as well as sets forth standards that must be met regarding the protection of works of authorship by all member nations. The process of proposing amendments to the Berne Convention is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) which is an agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.(3)


A. General Principles

17 U.S.C.A. §102 reads in pertinent part:

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) Literary works;

(2) Musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) Dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) Pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

(6) Motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

(7) Sound recordings; and

(8) Architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. (Emphasis added.)

In part (b), Congress codified the pre-existing case law that held that copyright law protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. It is thought that the idea/expression dichotomy is required by the First Amendment prohibition against enactment of any law that would abridge freedom of speech.(4) The basic concept is that copyright cannot monopolize an idea or concept. This has resulted in rules that are especially important to the Internet including:

(1) If there are only a limited number of ways to express an idea (for example, to write a computer program accomplishing a particular function) the idea and expression are said to merge and the coding is not protected by copyright law.(5)

(2) Scenes a` faire, which are stock literary devices such as incidents, characters or settings which, as a practical matter, are indispensable or at least standard in the treatment of a given topic are not protected by copyright law. The reasoning is that standard expression is so close to the non-protectable idea itself that the expression provides nothing new or additional over the idea, see, e.g., Atari, Inc. v. North American Phillips Consumer Electronics Corp., 672 F.2d 607 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 880 (1982).

(3) Expression is also not protectable where it is required by particular standards in the industry or considerations of efficiency, see, e.g., Data East U.S.A., Inc. v. Epyx, Inc., 862 F.2d 204 (9th Cir. 1989).

Additionally, whether an aspect of a work is an idea or expression of an idea is a matter of degree. Exact copying of the language of a novel, play or computer program is a copyright infringement. Writing a novel using no more than the same overall general plot as another novel or writing a computer program performing the same function as another is not a copyright infringement. Paraphrasing a novel or following a detailed plot outline is an infringement. See, Twin Peaks Productions, Inc. v. Publication Int’l, Ltd., et al., 996 F.2d 1366 (2d Cir. 1993) (finding detailed plot summaries of television series to be infringement). Paraphrasing linear computer code or following the structure, sequence and organization of that code has been held to be an infringement.(6)

B. Non-Literal Elements of Computer Software

The non-literal elements of computer software are elements of the software other than the source code and object code such as the overall layouts, menus, structure and look and feel. At one point there appeared to be a significant amount of protection for the non-literal elements of computer software. The courts even went so far as to apply the notion that taking the “total concept and feel” of a computer program (which had been found to be illegal with respect to television characters)(7) constitutes a copyright infringement.(8)

In the 1990’s the courts began restricting protection of non-literal elements in computer programs under copyright law. The two leading cases in this regard are Computer Associates, Inc. v. Altai, Inc.(9) and Lotus Dev. Corp. v. Borland Int’l, Inc.(10)

In the Altai case, Computer Associates had developed a scheduling program and, separately, an “ADAPTER” to allow the scheduling program to be operated on a number of different operating systems. Altai, a competitor of Computer Associates, desired to develop an “adapter type” program to allow its scheduling program to be used on an additional operating system. Altai hired an employee of Computer Associates who, without Altai’s knowledge, brought over code from the ADAPTER program. After Computer Associates filed suit, Altai realized what had happened, admitted liability for the direct copying and reconstructed the program without any literal copying. The court had to determine whether the non-literal copying constituted an infringement. The Court of Appeals approved the statements of the district court below that had said “references to structure, sequence, and organization” are no longer necessarily relevant to how computer programming is done. With object oriented programming, and especially with Windows based object oriented programming, such as Visual Basic, it is difficult to point to any particular sequence of a computer program. The court went on to describe its three step test for determining what, if any, of the non-literal elements of a computer program are protectable under copyright law.

The first step is “abstraction” where the court goes through a sort of “reverse engineering.” The court determines what are the various levels of abstraction of the program. At the lowest level are the actual instructions organized into a hierarchy of modules. At a higher level are the functions of each module. (Note that a selection and organization of modules could involve creativity that is protectable if at that level the program survives Step 2 “filtration” (discussed below), as compilations may be protectable under Section 103 of the Copyright Act.)

The second step is filtration of each level of abstraction. Here the court filters out the following at each level:

(a) Elements that constitute ideas or are dictated by efficiency;

(b) Elements dictated by external factors such as standard techniques rather than creative originality on the part of the programmer; and

(c) Elements taken from the public domain.

The third step is the comparison test. From the filtration step, the court has determined what of the plaintiff’s program is protectable expression and then the court determines whether or not the “defendant copied any aspect of this protected expression, as well as an assessment of the copied portion’s relative importance with respect to the plaintiff’s program.” The Court of Appeals also held that the district court’s appointment of its own expert witness was appropriate. Following these tests, the court held that there was no infringement. The court did hold that there was a possibility of misappropriation of trade secrets. The court said that state trade secret law is not pre-empted under Section 301 of the Copyright Act.

In Lotus v. Borland, supra, Borland had developed a competitive spreadsheet program that included an option which provided “a virtually identical copy of the 1-2-3 menu tree” contained in the Lotus spreadsheet program. There was no contention that the underlying code or protected elements of computer screen displays had been copied. Lotus’ only contention was that Borland had unlawfully copied its menu command hierarchy. The trial court concluded that Lotus’ menu hierarchy was protectable expression because, for example, many different words could be used for the same commands. The Court of Appeals reversed. Referring to 17 U.S.C. §102(b) (quoted above), the Court of Appeals said:

We hold that the Lotus menu hierarchy is an uncopyrightable method of operation. We do not consider whether it could also be a system, process, or procedure.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to Lotus on an appeal from the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed by default when it turned out that the Justices were equally divided on the issue.(11)

As courts became reluctant to protect non-literal elements of computer programs under copyright law, courts, at the same time, became more comfortable with granting patent protection to computer programs.(12)

Shifting much of the protection for non-literal elements of computer programs from copyright to patent law has created a situation that makes it much more difficult for start up companies to protect their software because of the much higher expense of filing for patent protection. In the writer’s view it also allowed for monopoly protection of some matters that would not have ever been protected by copyright law that are too easy to create in the software context to fairly be the subject of patent protection. There is so much programming code created every day that much of the software for which patent protection is granted is already being used by others in the industry who just have not gone to the trouble of applying for a patent. The writer submits that a modified hybrid of trade secret, patent and copyright law should be developed for the protection of computer software.

C. Screen Displays – Web Pages

The Copyright Office has taken the position that registration of an underlying computer program automatically covers the screen displays. The applicant need only describe the work as “computer programs.” However, if the application includes “screen displays” in its description of the work, the applicant will be required to include a printout or videotape of the screen display showing sufficient copyrightable authorship to support a claim to copyright in the screen display.(13) Note that computer programs are generally registered as literary works on Form TX (“TX” refers to “text”). For works on the Internet that are predominantly visual works of art, which is the typical case now, Form VA (“VA” refers to “visual arts”) should be used. Where audiovisual authorship predominates, which is likely to be more and more often the case in the future for Internet sites, the work should be registered as an audiovisual work on Form PA (“PA” refers to “performing arts”).

D. Data Bases

Also important to Internet issues is the protectability status of online data bases. An author has copyrights in his original contributions to a compilation, but not in the underlying works being used.(14) At one time there was a split in the circuits about whether compilations of pure facts could be protected by copyright if there was no originality involved based on the labor and effort used in the compilation. See, e.g., Leon v. Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co., 91 F2d 484 (9th Cir. 1937). This “sweat of the brow” line of cases was overruled in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.,(15) where the Supreme Court held that there was no copyright infringement in copying a telephone book because there was no creativity involved in compiling it. The Court pointed out that placing names in alphabetical order and adding addresses was standard and not creative.(16) In Matthew Bender & Company, Inc. v. West Publishing Co.,(17) it was held that copying West Publishing compilations of Federal and District Court cases was not an infringement. West had successfully argued in West Publishing Co. v. Mead Data Central, Inc.,(18) that it had a protectable interest in selection of the order in which it assembled the case decisions.

At the December 1996 WIPO conference in Geneva, the United States representative proposed that the Berne Convention be amended so that the time and effort that went into developing data bases would be sufficient to allow for copyright protection – the current rule in Europe. The United States scientific community and others effectively lobbied the White House to withdraw this proposal.(19)


Section 106 of the Copyright Act reads in pertinent part:

Subject to Sections 107 through 120, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

(2) To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

(3) To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease or lending [this provision does not apply to redistribution of an authorized copy, see Section 109 of the Copyright Act];

(4) In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes and motion pictures, and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly [this provision does not apply to sound recordings, see Section 114 of the Copyright Act];

(5) In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes and pictorial, graphics, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and

(6) In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission [this provision is modified by Section 114 of the Copyright Act – see the discussion of “musical works” below].

To the extent that each of these exclusive rights have special relevance to online use, they are discussed in Part VIII below. For an in-depth discussion of how the exclusivity of these rights is affected by the doctrine of fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, see the article on Fair Use In New Media Technology by Rob Hassett and Adam Alexander included with these materials.


Copyrights in a work of authorship vest initially in the individual author unless the work is a “work made for hire” in which case the employer is considered to be the author.(20) A transfer of copyright ownership may only be made in writing.(21) A work may be a work made for hire only if it:

(1) Is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or

(2) It is a work prepared as a contribution to a collective work, an audiovisual work or one of the other categories of work listed under the definition of “work made for hire” under Section 101 of the Copyright Act and “the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.”

Ownership can be a problem where a company employs another company as an independent contractor to create a web site. Under those circumstances, without a writing to the contrary, the commissioning company would not own the copyrights in that web site.(22) This is contrary to the law that applied before the 1976 Copyright Act became effective in 1978. Where a company pays for an independent contractor to develop a web site and does not have a written agreement as to ownership, the company would arguably have an implied license to do whatever it wished with the web site, but couldn’t prevent the independent contractor from also using those portions of the web site developed by the independent contract. Of course, the independent contractor would not be permitted to use materials contributed by others and would be subject to any privacy and publicity rights of any individuals whose name and/or likeness appeared in the web site.


Prior to January 1, 1978, registration was required to maintain ownership of a copyright in a work. Currently, all that is required for ownership is that the work be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Registration in the Copyright Office is still advisable. With some minor exceptions, unless a work is registered before an infringement occurs, the copyright owner may not recover statutory damages (damages which a judge may award under Section 504 without proof) or attorney’s fees (which a judge may otherwise award under Section 505).(23) Additionally, with some minor exceptions, registration is required prior to the filing of a lawsuit for copyright infringement.


Prior to March 1, 1989, when the United States became a member of the Berne Convention, it was required that copyright notices be placed on works in order to maintain ownership in the copyrights in those works. Notice of a copyright is no longer required for ownership. Nevertheless, it is recommended that copyright notices be placed on any work. Adding the notice prevents a defendant’s claim of innocent infringement in mitigation of damages on the grounds that the infringer did not realize that a copyright was claimed. A copyright notice on visually perceptible copies consists of the following:

© [year of first publication] [name of the copyright owner]

Note that the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “COPR” are also both acceptable but in order to comply with requirements under what is known as the U.C.C. Convention, it is recommended that a “©” be used. It is also advisable to add the language “all rights reserved” at the end of the notice as that is still required in some Latin American countries. Where the work is a sound recording and the owner wishes to give notice of the copyrights in the sound recording, a “p in a circle” should be used.(24)


Rights relating to music are being treated separately in these materials. This is because the law relating to some aspects of music is different and, also, because, as a result of industry practices, music rights are handled differently from rights in other works.

There are two separate sets of rights relating to every sound recording and/or audiovisual work involving music. First, there are rights in the underlying song or composition. These typically belong to the author – the songwriter or composer – and to their publisher. Second, there are rights in the sound recording itself. These typically belong to the record company.

1. Licenses of Rights in the Underlying Song

Before any discussion as to the rights of the author of a musical work, it must be determined who the author is. Generally, the author is the actual writer or co-writers. However, where the writer is employed by another or is an independent contractor, the work may be deemed a “work made for hire”, and the author, and owner of the copyright of the work, may be the employer or person who commissioned the work. See, the discussion regarding “OWNERSHIP” hereinabove.

With respect to songs that are released as singles, or as part of albums, most songwriters enter into agreements with publishers who pitch the song to record companies and performers and handle administrative matters for the writer. Most songwriters and composers are also affiliated with either the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (“ASCAP”) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (“BMI”). These organizations license their catalogs of songs on a yearly basis to radio stations, television stations, restaurants, and other operations that publicly perform music. ASCAP and BMI then allocate and distribute the money (performance royalties) they receive based on the relative volume of use of the songs in their catalogs. The royalties are usually evenly divided between the publisher and the songwriter. However, where music is written as “works made for hire,” as is often the case for music for commercials or product jingles, the composer may not be entitled to ASCAP and/or BMI performance royalties.

In addition to performance royalties, songwriters may also receive what are called mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are based on the number of copies of the sound recording of the song distributed. After a recording of the song is released, other performers are permitted to record their versions of the song, provided they comply with the compulsory license provisions of Section 115(c) of the Copyright Act and pay the set royalty (currently 6.95 cents per song per copy of any recording sold). This set royalty is referred to as the “statutory rate”. See 37 CFR § 255.3(h). The rate is determined by ad hoc Arbitration Royalty Panels appointed and convened by the Library of Congress. Because the compulsory processes – such as the statutory provisions for accounting and notice provisions – are somewhat cumbersome, most record companies do their own negotiating of mechanical royalties for new recordings of previously released songs. The statutory rate is still used as a basis. The Harry Fox Agency in New York City administers the issuance of mechanical licenses and the receipts of royalties for many publishers of previously recorded songs.

Sometimes producers wish to include pre-existing music in their audiovisual work. For that purpose, the producer must acquire synchronization licenses for use of music embodied in their audiovisual work.(25) Synchronization licenses are generally negotiated with either the publisher or the Harry Fox Agency.

2. Rights in Sound Recordings

Rights in sound recordings are treated differently. Traditionally there have been no performance rights in sound recordings. Record companies owning copyrights in the sound recordings of songs on their records, earn income from the sale of the records and from the synchronization of those sound recordings for film, television, and other audiovisual uses. Thus, unlike the owner of the underlying song, record companies do not receive any performance royalties from ASCAP, BMI or anyone else, for radio airplay and other public performance uses of the recording.

It should be noted that in many other countries, especially in Europe, the owners of sound recordings do have performance rights in sound recordings. However, because the United States does not grant reciprocal rights, no royalties are collected for the performance rights for sound recordings owned by American companies when those songs are played, for example, on radio stations in countries that do recognize this right.(26)

There is one exception to the rule that U.S. law does not allow for the payment of performance royalties for performances of sound recordings. On November 1, 1995, President Clinton signed into law the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 which provides for owners of sound recordings and recording artists to receive performance royalties for certain digital performances. This Act is discussed below under Internet related issues.


A. Reproduction

Under Section 106(1), a copyright owner has exclusive right to “reproduce the copyrighted work … ” Whenever a computer program is used (or a web page is viewed) a copy is made on to the random access memory (“RAM”) of a computer. When copies are transmitted over the Internet, transitory copies are made throughout the transmission. Copying into RAM in conjunction with using a computer program has been held to be a violation of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder under Copyright Act Section 106(1).(27) The U.S. representative at the WIPO conference in December of 1996 urged amending the Berne Convention to explicitly provide that the making of transitory copies in connection with Internet transmissions would be an infringement. This proposal was successfully opposed by the telephone companies and Internet Service Providers (“ISP’s”) because they were concerned that it would create an additional source of liability. See, John Browning Africa 1 Hollywood 0 Wired Magazine, March 1997, at 61. Nevertheless, a statement was issued that: “the reproduction right … fully appl[ies] in the digital environment, and particularly to the use of digital works in digital form … [and] that the storage of a protected work in digital form in an electronic medium constitutes a reproduction.”(28)

Although no court has decided the issue at this time, it is not clear whether the making of transitory copies as part of Internet transmissions constitutes the sort of reproduction governed by §106(a) but the copying onto RAM in connection with viewing a copy is certainly an infringement.(29) Telephone companies and routers are probably not liable for their part in transmissions over the Internet which do involve the making of transitory copies.(30)

B. Performances

Because the licensing rights for copying and distribution of music are handled separately from the licensing of the rights of public performances, it is necessary to differentiate online copying and distribution from online performances. The writer knows of no cases on this issue to date. Several authors have asserted that where performances can be viewed in the process of downloading, there is probably a performance, and otherwise there is not.(31)

C. Criminal Liability

Until recently, Section 506(a) of the Copyright Act read:

Any person who infringes a copyright willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain shall be punished as provided in Section 2319 of Title 18. [Emphasis added]

Because of the requirement of “commercial advantage” or “private financial gain” it was recently held that individuals placing copyrighted materials on the Internet where users could make copies for free had not committed any crime. This leaves copyright owners vulnerable to actions by individuals who are not concerned about civil liability. Congress has remedied this situation by passage of the “No Electronic Theft” (“NET”) Act which was signed into law by President Clinton on December 16, 1997. The Act changes Section 506(a) to read:

Any person who infringes a copyright either willfully –

(1) For purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain; or

(2) By the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180/day period, of one or more copies or phonorecords of one or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000 shall be punished …(32)

D. Liability of ISP’s and OSP’s

Section 230(c)(1) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 states:

Treatment of publisher or speaker. — No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

This statute has been held to bar liability of an ISP or OSP for defamatory or obscene material posted by one of its customers.(33) This statutory limitation of liability for ISP’s and OSP’s has not, to date, been extended to copyright.

Two bills are now pending in Congress that would limit the liability of ISP’s and OSP’s for copyright infringement by adding a Section 512 to the Copyright Act.(34) In the meantime, ISP’s and OSP’s must rely on court decisions.

In Religious Technology Center, et al. v. Netcom On-Line Communication Services, Inc.,(35), the plaintiff held the copyrights in the Church of Scientology’s writings. A former member of the Church, Erlich, had placed Church of Scientology materials on a news group on the Internet through a bulletin board service connected to the internet through the national Internet service provider, Netcom. The plaintiff sued Netcom for its involvement in the claimed copyright infringement. Netcom moved for summary judgment. The court first decided that Netcom was not liable for direct infringement. Netcom had argued that Erlich, not Netcom, had actually placed the copies on the Netcom server. The court held that following the logic that Netcom had not actually made the copies and for policy reasons, Netcom would not be liable for direct infringement. The Court held that, unlike in Playboy Enterprises v. Frena,(36) Netcom was not liable for distribution or for publicly displaying the copies. In rejecting the argument that Netcom could be liable for direct infringement for distribution and public display, the court said in pertinent part:

No purpose would be served by holding liable those who had no ability to control the information to which the subscribers have access, even though they might be in some sense helping to achieve the Internet’s automatic “public distribution” and the users’ “public” display of files.

The court next dealt with the plaintiff’s contributory infringement claim against Netcom. The court said in pertinent part:

[Contributory] infringement will be established where the Defendant “with knowledge of the infringing activity,” induces, causes or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another.

The court held that there was a fact question about whether Netcom, after receiving notice, should have known that the copies that Erlich was posting were infringing. It stated that:

[w]here a DBS operator cannot reasonably verify a claim of infringement, either because of a possible fair use defense, the lack of copyright notices on the copies, or the copyright holder’s failure to provide the necessary documentation to show that there is a likely infringement, the operator’s lack of knowledge will be found reasonable and there will be no liability for contributory infringement for allowing the continued distribution of the work on its system.

Finally, the court rejected the contention that Netcom was vicariously liable which requires:

[that] the Defendant:

(1) Has the right and ability to control the infringer’s acts; and

(2) Receives a direct financial benefit from the infringement.

The Court found that there was no direct financial benefit because Netcom received the same monthly sum regardless of whether Netcom did or didn’t post the material.

E. Framing

“Framing” is discussed in the segment of these materials relating to unfair competition. Although the writer knows of no case on point, it is likely that a court would hold that framing constitutes a derivative work.

F. Music Issues

On November 1, 1995, President Clinton signed the Digital Performance Right In Sound Recordings Act of 1995 into law. This act is codified in Sections 106(6), 114, 115(c)(3) and 115(d) of the Copyright Act. This new addition to the Copyright Act provides a performance right in sound recordings when the sound recordings are transmitted over a service that is either interactive (the customer can choose the song they wish to hear) or where the sender is charging a subscription fee. There is a provision for compulsory (referred to in the statute as “statutory”) licensing where the sender is charging a fee with the exception that the statutory licensing set up does not apply in certain situations where members of Congress felt that a service would in fact be providing copies, rather than performances, of the sound recordings.(37) Where the service is interactive (the customer can choose which song they wish to download) or in the other situations described in Endnote 37 below, the sender is required to negotiate a license with the owner of the sound recording, but may follow a compulsory procedure to pay a set rate for a mechanical license for the underlying compositions.

Other than for subscription and interactive services, there is no performance license required, even on the Internet, for sound recordings. However, licenses are almost always necessary when a musical work and sound recordings, not owned by the web site owner, are used. Examples are:

(1) It may be necessary for the web site developer/manager to copy musical works and sound recordings onto the server (they may not be playable directly from a purchased copy) in which case a reproduction license for the underlying work and sound recording would be required;

(2) Viewers of the web site may copy, or be capable of copying, the musical work and the sound recording onto their own computer which would also require a reproduction license (since Real Audio and Real Player do not allow for a viewer to make copies of a recording of an audiovisual work, the writer does not believe a reproduction license would be necessary to cover those transmissions);

(3) If the music is performed as the web site is being downloaded, a performance right for the underlying musical work would be required;

(4) If a sound recording of a musical work is being synchronized with an audiovisual work, a synchronization license (a form of the right to make derivative works) would be required for both the musical work and the sound recording.(38)


1 Chapter 9 of Title 17 provides protection relating to the design of semi-conductors. Chapter 11 prohibits the unauthorized recording of live musical performances.

2 See 17 U.S.C.A. §301.


4 Nimmer on Copyright §1.10 [B] [2].

5 Nimmer, at §2.18[J]. See also, Kearn River Gas Transmission Co. v. Coastal Corp., 899 F.2d 1458, 1464 (5th Cir.), cert. denied 498 U.S. 952 (1990).

6 Whelan Associates, Inc. v. Jaslow Dental Laboratory, Inc., 797 F.2d 1222 (3rd Cir. 1986).

7 See, Sid and Marty Krofft Television Productions v. McDonald’s Corp., 562 F.2d 1152 (9th Cir. 1977).

8 See, generally, Scott On Computer Law, Second Edition, Section 3.47(C)(1).

9 982F.2d 693 (2d Cir. 1992).

10 489 F.3rd 807 (1st Cir. 1995). See also, Softel, Inc. v. Dragon Medical & Scientific Communications, Inc., 118 F.3rd 955 (2nd Cir. 1997).

11 116 S.Ct. 804 (1996).

12 See the paper by Bill Marvin on Patent Law included with these materials.

13 See, 53 Fed. Reg. 21817 (June 10, 1988).

14 See, e.g., 17 U.S.C. § 103.

15 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

16 See, also, Bell South Advertising & Publishing Corp. v. Donnelley Information Publishing, Inc., 999 F.2d 1436 (11th Cir.1993); and Warren Publishing, Inc. v. Microdos Data Corp., 115 F.3rd 1509 (11th Cir. 1997).

17 1997 W.L. 266972 (S.D. N.Y. May 19, 1997).

18 616 F. Supp. 1571 (D.Minn. 1985) affirmed 799 F.2d 1219 (8th Cir. 1986).

19 John Browning, Africa 1 Hollywood 0, Wired Magazine March 1997 at 61 (

20 §201(a) and (b) of the Copyright Act.

21 See, §204 of the Copyright Act.

22 See, e.g., Community For Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730 (1989) (holding that the employer of an artist as an independent contractor to create a sculptural work did not own the copyrights in the sculptural work after paying for it).

23 See generally, § 412 of the Copyright Act.

24 Copyright Act §§ 401 and 402.

25 Sometimes performance licenses are also required. ASCAP and BMI do not cover every type of performance – for example, they do not grant performance licenses to, or collect payments from, movie theaters.

26 Howard Siegle & Paul Karl Lukacs, A Mega-Million Dollar Musical Mea Culpa, Are U.S. Record Companies Overlooking A Fortune In International Public Performance Royalties?, 15 Ent. & Sports Law., Vol. 15., No. 303, Fall 1997.

27 Mai Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511 (9th Cir. 1993).

28 Meca Jung and Stephen D. Rosenboro, The WIPO Treaties, The International Battle Over Copyright Cyberturf, 15 Ent. & Sports Law., Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall 1997.

29 Mai Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., supra. Note 27.

30 See, e.g., Religious Technology Center v. Netcom On-Line Communication Services, Inc., 907 F.Supp. 1361 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (holding that an ISP wouldn’t be directly liable for material placed on its server because it would not be reasonable to hold ISP’s liable and because ISP’s are not actually the ones making the copies).

31 Jeffrey P. Cunard, et al. Internet & Online Law, Section 6.08(4) (Kent B. Stuckey, ed., 1997).

32 See the information posted regarding H.R. 2265 at

33 See, e.g., Zeran v. American Online, Inc., 958 F.Supp. 1124 (E.D. Va. 1997), aff’d 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997).

34 See, generally, H.R. 2180 and S. 1146,

35 907 F.Supp. 1361 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

36 839 F.Supp. 1552 (N.D. Fla. 1993).

37 The owner of the sound recordings is not required to provide a statutory license both where the license is interactive and in other situations where the drafters of the legislation felt that such transmittal could substitute for purchases of copies of the sound recordings such as situations where more than four (4) selections by the same artist are played in any three-hour period, more than three selections in total from any one sound recording are played in any three-hour period, and where a list of the sound recordings to be transmitted is being provided in advance.

38 For an in-depth analysis relating to incorporating music into a web site, see, Al Kohn and Bob Kohn, Kohn on Music Licensing, 1236 – 1250 (1996).

The information above is provided for general educational purposes and not as legal advice. Laws in areas in which we practice change continually and also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Therefore no visitor to our site should rely on any of the articles provided for legal advice, but should always consult their own attorney regarding legal matters.

© 1998, Rob Hassett, Atlanta, Georgia. All Right Reserved.


Leave a Reply