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U.S. Supreme Court

Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken, 422 U.S. 151 (1975)

Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken

No. 74-452

Argued April 21, 1975

Decided June 17, 1975

422 U.S. 151


Petitioners' copyrighted songs were received on the radio in respondent's food shop from a local broadcasting station, which was licensed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to perform the songs, but respondent had no such license. Petitioners then sued respondent for copyright infringement. The District Court granted awards, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Respondent did not infringe upon petitioners' exclusive right, under the Copyright Act, "[t]o perform the copyrighted work publicly for profit," since the radio reception did not constitute a "performance" of the copyrighted songs. Fortnightly Corp. v. United Artists, 392 U. S. 390; Teleprompter Corp. v. CBS, 415 U. S. 394. To hold that respondent "performed" the copyrighted works would obviously result in a wholly unenforceable regime of copyright law, and would also be highly inequitable, since (short of keeping his radio turned off) one in respondent's position would be unable to protect himself from infringement liability. Such a ruling, moreover, would authorize the sale of an untold number of licenses for what is basically a single rendition of a copyrighted work, thus conflicting with the balanced purpose of the Copyright Act of assuring the composer an adequate return for the value of his composition while, at the same time, protecting the public from oppressive monopolies. Pp. 422 U. S. 154-16.

500 F.2d 127, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 422 U. S. 164. BURGER, C.J.,filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, J., joined, post, p. 422 U. S. 167. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 422 U. S. 152

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