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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Songwriters Fall Flat in Bid for Higher Damages

(CN) - Two songwriters are entitled to no more than $2,400 in damages for unauthorized digital downloads of their albums "Songs for Cats" and "Songs for Dogs," the 2nd Circuit ruled.

Anne Bryant, Ellen Bernfeld and their record label, Gloryvision Ltd., had asked the federal appeals court in Manhattan to award them damages for each of the 10 songs on each album, instead of $1,200 per album.

The court ruled that because the albums are "compilations" under copyright law, Bryant and Bernfeld are limited to one award per album.

The infringement stemmed from a deal the songwriters struck with Media Right to market their albums for a cut of the profits. Media Right and its president, Douglas Maxwell, then entered into a distribution agreement with Orchard Enterprises.

Although Media Right was not allowed to copy the albums without Gloryvision's permission, its deal with Orchard allowed the distributor to make digital copies that it sold through Internet retailers such as iTunes.

From 2002 to 2008, Orchard generated $12 from the sale of physical albums, and $578 from downloaded digital copies. Media Right's cut was $413, of which $331 should have gone to Bryant and Bernfeld, but Media Right said it overlooked those payments because they were bundled with other fees from Orchard.

A federal judge ordered Orchard to pay a minimal $200 per album, finding its infringement innocent. Media Right and Maxwell were fined $1,000 per album.

Media Right couldn't prove its innocence, but the songwriters couldn't prove that it had acted willfully, so the 2nd Circuit refused to increase the damage award. It also rejected the songwriters' bid for attorney's fees.

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