CBS Radio Dodges Royalties Through Clever ‘Remastering’ Defense…

CBS Wins Lawsuit Over Pre-1972 Songs

Big win for CBS and other radio operators…

ABS Entertainment has been battling CBS Radio over its use of pre-1972 classic recordings for some time now.

ABS says CBS isn’t authorized to play the recordings given a lack of federal copyright protection, while CBS Radio was trying to toss the case based on bogus claims. 1972 was the year when United States federal copyright protection started covering recordings, a shift that replaced a patchwork of statewide statutes on the matter.

ABS claimed that CBS Radio is over-extending its exemption and playing pre-1972 music without authorization. But, CBS Radio argued that if those recordings were remastered after 1972, then federal copyright law applies. That was the basis of CBS’ request for summary judgment.

CBS put together some persuasive examples that swayed  U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson’s final decision and caused the case to be thrown out.

CBS had some clever tactics up their sleeve by hiring expert, Dr. Durand Begault – an acoustic engineer, research scientist and specialist in forensic investigation of audio evidence. Begault found that the plaintiffs’ pre-1972 sound recordings “have undergone sufficient changes during the remastering process to qualify for federal copyright protection.”  

These professional findings ultimately helped the Judge come to a conclusion that was in favour of CBS’s claims.

The Judge on the case said…


“Plaintiffs have not identified any cases supporting the wholly separate conclusion that a derivative work is not copyrightable if the original contributions in the derivative work are not perceptible after removing the original work.”

The win is a massive victory for CBS, as the Judge’s decision means that radio operators like CBS have a way of publicly performing older works without liability

7 Responses

  1. Musicservices4less

    Don’t get too excited over this case. It may be appealed and it is only one Federal District Court Judge’s decision. At this point in the development of this aspect of the copyright law it is just one judge’s opinion. Really not a big deal at all.

  2. curtdjrob

    Question: So if a radio station only plays 50’s and 60’s music does this mean they don’t pay any royalties at all? Not quite sure what this decision means from an overall perspective.

    • b

      As I understand it, pre-1972 sound recordings, while not covered by a federal copyright, may be subject to state copyright law. So in California, radio stations DO pay royalties for 50s and 60s music, in accordance with CA civil code. However, because federal law doesn’t require terrestrial radio to pay royalties on post-1972 sound recordings, radio stations can avoid paying sound recording royalties by arguing that the recordings, due to later remastering, actually ARE post-1972 recordings.


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