The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that iHeart Radio’s internet radio services are exempt from a Georgia statute that makes it illegal to transfer sound recordings without the owner’s consent.
The statute allows broadcasts or similar uses to be exempt from the law.
At issue was whether iHeart Radio’s streaming qualifies as broadcasting, according to a case summary provided by the Georgia Supreme Court.
In Monday’s unanimous opinion, the state Supreme Court ruled at the least that iHeart’s services qualify as a related use to a radio broadcast because the user’s experience is nearly identical to AM/FM radio.
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For example, a simulcast of programing on an AM/FM station is offered on the internet, with the only difference being that the listener accesses the music through an internet-connected device instead of a traditional radio receiver.
The court went on to say that iHeart digitally broadcasts a track to a listener for a single use. Afterward, the track disappears from the listener’s device, just as the recording on a radio isn’t stored for replay.
State law governs recordings made before 1972. Congress granted federal copyright protection to recordings in 1972 and post-1972 recordings are governed by federal law.
According to legal briefs, Arthur and Barbara Sheridan own several master sound recordings of doo-wop, jazz and rhythm and blues music from before 1972, and they contended that they own the intellectual property and contract rights associated with the recordings.
IHeart Radio, owned by iHeart Media Inc., offers listeners customizable music stations that stream music based on the listener’s preferences. The company also owns traditional AM and FM stations that stream broadcasts online.
The Sheridans filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia against iHeart, alleging violations of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act on their behalf and for others like them who own pre-1972 recordings. They alleged that iHeart repeatedly violated Georgia law by continuing to play the songs without the owners’ consent.
IHeart filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that they were exempt from Georgia’s Criminal Reproduction and Sale of Recorded Material statute because the music was streamed over the internet.