The Supreme Court Declines To Hear Capitol Records’ Copyright Appeal Against Vimeo

By 03/28/2017
The Supreme Court Declines To Hear Capitol Records’ Copyright Appeal Against Vimeo

A major court decision from last year looks like it will hold up. The Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal brought by Capitol Records against the online video site Vimeo. Instead, the 2016 decree handed down by 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals on this matter will stand, thus maintaining the broad range of protections sites like Vimeo receive under the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Capitol sued Vimeo in 2009 in an attempt to poke holes in safe harbor, which protects Vimeo and its video hosting brethren from being legally responsible for copyright-infringing material shared by their users, so long as the sites themselves respond in an expedient manner when rights holders request takedowns of that material. After winning an initial decision, Capitol lost on appeal.

Part of Capitol’s case had to do with the relationship between pre-1972 recordings and safe harbor. While those tracks are subject to individual state laws rather than federal law, the appeals court’s ruling said safe harbor still applied. “Service providers would be compelled either to incur heavy costs of monitoring every posting to be sure it did not contain infringing pre-1972 recordings,” the court’s decision read, “or incurring potentially crushing liabilities under state copyright laws.”


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A few months after the initial pro-Capitol decision was overturned, the label appeal to he Supreme Court with respect to the ruling on pre-1972 recordings. “[T]he Second Circuit’s decision…diminishes the legal protections enjoyed by owners of every sound recording made in the United States prior to February 15, 1972 — including among them works of immense cultural and commercial significance like those of The Temptations and The Supremes, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Pablo Casals, and Yehudi Menuhin, to name just a few,” read Capitol’s petition.

The Supreme Court, however, declined to rule on this point, and so the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals decision will stand. For Vimeo, YouTube, and other similar sites, that’s great news.

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