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First off today, Larry Neumeister at the Associated Press reports that a District Court judge in New York has dismissed a claim against the estate of Andy Warhol made by photographer Lynn Goldsmith.
Goldsmith sued the estate alleging that Warhol, who died in 1987, infringed a photo she took of the musician Prince when Warhol made a series of 16 pieces known as the “Prince Series”. According to Goldsmith, she took the photo of Prince in her studio and then licensed the photo to Vanity Fair in 1984. From there, she alleges Vanity Fair to commissioned Warhol to create an illustration using the photo as a reference.
However, the judge in the case ruled that the illustration is a fair use. Noting that, while the original photograph attempted to show Prince’s humanity and vulnerability in black and white, the illustration was radically different and used bright colors to make him a larger-than-life figure. Goldsmith’s attorney has said that they are planning an appeal on the matter in hopes they can, “pull in the reigns of transformative use where photography is concerned.”
Next up today, Vernon Silver at Bloomberg reports that the battle between Ed Sheeran and the estate of Marvin Gaye will have to be put on hold pending the outcome in the similar battle over the song Stairway to Heaven.
The Gaye estate sued Sheeran claiming that Sheeran’s hit song Thinking Out Loud was an infringement of Gaye’s 1973 hit Let’s Get it On. The case has been progressing but a similar lawsuit elsewhere pits the estate of Taurus guitarist for the band Spirit versus members of the band Led Zeppelin. That lawsuit looks at whether the Led Zeppelin song Stairway to Heaven is an infringement of the Spirit instrumental song Taurus.
At specific issue in the Led Zeppelin case is exactly what in the original song is protected. Prior to 1978, song compositions could only be registered via the sheet music and both Led Zeppelin and Sheeran argue that should be the limit of the enforceable copyright protection. However, the Zeppelin case is currently heading back to the appeals court to be heard by all 11 judges to address that issue and the judge in the Sheeran case is putting that one on hold pending the outcome.
Finally today, Variety reports that the United States Copyright Office has designated the people that will become the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) and it is a group that’s backed by major songwriter associations including the National Music Publishers’ Association, the Nashville Songwriters Association International, and the Songwriters of North America.
The MLC came about as the result of the Music Modernization Act. It is a new body that will collect mechanical royalties paid by streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music, and disburse them to publishers or songwriters. Part of that task is to hunt down songwriters that cannot be located, usually due to incomplete song metadata.
The MLC will be headed by higher ups from various major music publishers including Sony/ATV, BMG and Warner/Chappell Music to name just a few. Despite the broad support for the group, many worry that this could lead to a conflict of interest as songwriters that cannot be located will see their royalties be disbursed to the known publishers after a period of time. Nonetheless, the move is not considered surprising and the new organization is moving forward quickly, hoping to fully launch in January 2021.