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The Importance of Deposit Copies in Copyright Litigation

September 08, 2016
Post by Brandon W. Clark

Two of the most notorious copyright litigation cases in recent years share one thing in common, neither jury was allowed to compare the audio recordings of the songs in question. The rulings in both the "Blurred Lines"and "Stairway to Heaven"cases show how important it is to file accurate and complete deposit copies with the US Copyright Office.

"Blurred Lines"v. "Got To Give It Up‚¬
The Court refused to allow the jury to compare the Marvin Gaye version of "Got to Give it Up,"with the Williams/Thicke version of"Blurred Lines‚¬. Instead, the jury heard a version of Got To Give It Up that was interpreted from the Marvin Gaye sheet music (lead sheet) and the publicly released version ofBlurred Lines. The rationale for this decision was that the copyright belonging to the Gaye estate was in the sheet music and that some elements of the Marvin Gaye recorded version of Got To Give It Up were not subject to copyright protection.

Judge Kronstadt ruled that Gaye's copyright extended only to the written sheet music, or the ‚¬Ëœdeposit copy', filed with the Library of Congress in 1977, and not to the actual sound recording, which was not registered.

Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up‚¬: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4r0-LJZBDM
Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines‚¬: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RA01pdI0jng


"Stairway to Heaven"v. "Taurus‚¬
Led Zeppelin's attorneys pointed to the decision in Blurred Lines and Judge Klausner similarly ruled that the "Taurus"copyright was limited to the sheet music filed with the Copyright Office.

Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnFhf3BisUA
Spirit - "Taurus": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFHLO_2_THg

It is unclear how the outcomes would be different if either jury was allowed to compare the actual recordings but the rulings, and their ramifications, in both cases illustrate the importance of submitting a correct and complete deposit copy with the copyright office. Ensuring the accuracy and breadth of the deposit copy will help minimize the possibility of misinterpretation and maximize the copyright owner's ability to produce the most relevant and accurate evidence possible.

Brandon W. Clark is the Chair of the Copyright And Entertainment Law Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit www.ipmvs.com or contact Brandon directly via email at brandon.clark@ipmvs.com.


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