Academic journal article Suffolk University Law Review

Intellectual Property Law

Academic journal article Suffolk University Law Review

Intellectual Property Law

Article excerpt

Frustrating the Purpose of the Copyright Clause: First Circuit Restrictively Interprets Copyright Registration Requirements--Torres-Negron v. J & N Records, L.L.C., 504 F.3d 151 (1st Cir. 2007)

Intellectual property rights in musical works theoretically arise at the moment of creation. (1) The ability to enforce these rights in the face of infringement, however, requires that artists fulfill specific registration requirements with the United States Copyright Office; this includes submitting a "copy" of the original piece. (2) In Torres-Negron v. J & N Records, L.L.C., (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, addressing a matter of first impression, considered whether a copy of a song made without referencing the inceptive recording or lyric sheet qualifies as a "deposit copy" for registration purposes. (4) Answering in the negative, the First Circuit determined that without some tangible reference to the original work, recordings constitute "reconstruction[s]" rather than copies, the former of which fails to satisfy the registrational prerequisite required to confer jurisdiction over an infringement action. (5)

Around 1992, Fernando Torres Negron, a Puerto Rican schoolteacher and songwriter, created and contemporaneously recorded the music and lyrics to a song entitled Noche de Fiesta for a local meringue band. (6) The band's leader, Rubin Canuelas, retained the original cassette recording of the song as well as the inceptive handwritten copy of the lyrics, never to be seen by Negron again. (7) When the song caught the attention of Antonio Rivera, a more prominent member of the Puerto Rican music industry, Negron granted permission to record the song with Rivera's band, Gozadera. (8) In 1993, Gozadera released an album containing two versions of Noche de Fiesta-one original and one remixed--both of which credited Negron as the song's author. (9) Negron later bought a copy of the album to share with his family and wrote a clean copy of the lyrics for his records. (10)

Initially, Rivera distributed the album exclusively in Puerto Rico and paid Negron nominal royalty payments totaling $900. (11) Unbeknownst to Negron, however, Rivera sold distribution rights for the continental United States to J & N Records Distributors, Inc. (J & N), providing J & N with the master sound recording of the album. (12) In 1994, J & N nationally distributed an identical sound recording in an album bearing the same name. (13) That same year, J & N also released a meringue compilation album containing the same recording of Noche de Fiesta. (14) Lastly, J & N released an anniversary compilation album in 1999 also containing Noche de Fiesta. (15)

The nationwide success allegedly came to Negron's attention sometime in 2001 or 2002, at which point he promptly applied for copyright protection with the United States Copyright Office. (16) Included in his application was a recent copy of Noche de Fiesta recorded from memory, referencing only the Gozadara recording he purchased in 1994 and the clean lyric sheet he made shortly thereafter. (17) Negron then filed two separate infringement actions, later consolidated, in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. (18) After a bifurcated trial, a jury awarded Negron $400,000 specifically from J & N as a result of its unauthorized exploitation of Noche de Fiesta. (19) Subsequently, however, the district court granted J & N's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, reasoning that without first-hand reference to the original, no reasonable jury could have determined that Negron's "reconstruct[ed]" recording constituted a "deposit copy" for registration purposes. (20) Following cross-appeals by both parties, the First Circuit affirmed, relying on persuasive authority from several sister circuits. (21)

Article I, Section Eight, Clause Eight of the United States Constitution--commonly known as the Copyright Clause-expressly empowers Congress "to promote the Progress of . …

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