On Tuesday, a California judge handed down a big ruling that could help immunize terrestrial radio operators and others from lawsuits and upend many preconceived notions about copyright. The decision from U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson comes in a dispute between ABS Entertainment, owner of recordings by Al Green and others, and CBS Radio, which was dragged into court after others found success litigating the theory that pre-1972 songs are protected under state law and can’t be broadcast without permission.
In reaction to the ABS lawsuit, CBS tried out a response dripping with implications. According to the radio giant, it was not performing the original analog recordings, once distributed mainly through vinyl, but rather remastered versions that came out after 1972. Under this argument, the specifically performed works aren’t protected by state law, and CBS doesn’t have to pay.