4 April 2019Copyright

Vinyl companies ‘not liable’ for sale of unlicensed Eminem records

A vinyl manufacturer breached copyright by selling unlicensed vinyl copies of rapper Eminem’s debut album, the English High Court said on Tuesday, April 2.

The court also found, however, that the company, and its associated distributor, had no reason to believe they were infringing copyright, and were not found to be liable for secondary infringement.

FBT Productions, a Detroit-based record studio, brought the case in 2017 after Let Them Eat Vinyl (LTEV) and Plastic Head Music Distribution produced and sold vinyl copies of Eminem’s 1996 album “Infinite”.

“Infinite” was recorded and released at FBT while Eminem was signed to the studio’s affiliated Web Entertainment record label.

German music distribution company Intergroove had been selling CD copies of “Infinite” from at least 2013, the court said. Intergroove ceased trading that year.

The German company had obtained the CDs from Massachusetts company Boogie Up Productions, who contacted the managing director of LTEV and Plastic Head after Intergroove entered into liquidation.

The defendants were offered the opportunity to “take up where Intergroove left off” in distributing “Infinite”, the court said.

According to the ruling, LTEV and Plastic Head were advised that Boogie Up had acquired the rights to distribute vinyl copies of “Infinite”.

The managing director of the two defendants sought clarification with the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and sought a license for “Infinite”.

The MCPS administers the copyright of most sound recordings in the UK and licenses this copyright on behalf of rights owners.

Although the MCPS informed LTEV and Plastic Head that it had not processed any claim for the copyright of “Infinite” and could therefore not grant a license, it nonetheless approved the manufacture of 2,391 vinyl copies of the album.

LTEV manufactured 2,891 copies of “Infinite”, which were then distributed by Plastic Head until October 2016.

Plastic Head withdrew all copies of the album from the market after receiving a solicitor’s letter from FBT the previous month.

The court rejected LTEV and Plastic Head’s claim that FBT may not own the copyright for the album, but accepted that they were reasonably led to believe that they were not infringing any rights through their activity.

In the ruling, the court said that from the defendants’ perspective, “an apparent sanction was given by the official copyright collecting society”, or the MCPS.

The court noted that Plastic Head had a “substantial business” in lawfully selling licensed music, and that its hasty response to FBT’s complaint was not indicative of dishonest behaviour.

Although LTEV infringed FBT’s copyright by creating unlicensed vinyl copies of the album, neither LTEV or Plastic Head was liable for secondary infringement by the sale of the records.

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