U.S. appellate court in Florida has upheld a lower court’s summary judgment for defendant Timberland, resolving an interesting legal question — not whether the music producer could sample a 1967 Bollywood tune for the rap “Put You on the Game,” but whether plaintiff Saregama India Ltd. owned that original tune’s copyright and had standing to litigate. To answer the question, the panel of judges reviewed “an Indian copyright statute from 1957, the types of customary agreements between film producers and musicians in the 1960s, and the specific contract between Saregama’s predecessor company and the producer of Aradhana,” the Bollywood movie from which the tune came.
Indian copyright law can be confusing because “in old Bollywood films, there could be three separate owners of a sound recording copyright,” as THR Esq. noted in its report on this case. A first owner may have the exclusive right “to make any other sound recording embodying [the original sound recording].” A second owner may have the exclusive right “to sell or give on hire, or offer for sale or hire, any copy of the sound recording.” Finally, a third owner may have the exclusive right “to communicate the sound recording to the public.” Things are later simplified – the film producer is deemed the intial owner of the copyright and is allowed to transfer the other rights to the music producer via an expressed agreement.

After reviewing Indian law, the U.S. appellate court found that the tune’s copyright belongs to Aradhana’s producer not Saregama, which lacked standing because its predecessor had gained the rights to make sound recordings on the tune through a 1967 contract, which has expired.

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