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Greenfield v. Philles Records, Inc.

Court of Appeals of New York
780 N.E.2d 166 (2002)


Facts

The Ronnettes, a singing group formed by Ronnie Greenfield (a.k.a. Veronica Bennett), Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley (plaintiffs), signed a contract in 1963 with Philles Records, Inc. (PRI), a recording company owned by Phil Spector (defendants). The contract gave full ownership rights to PRI of all master recordings and subject to a schedule for payment of royalties to the Ronnettes. In the paragraph granting PRI full ownership of all recordings made by the Ronnettes, the contract provided that PRI could make reproductions, including “phonograph records, tape recordings or other reproductions.” In the 1980s, PRI began licensing master recordings of the Ronnettes’ songs for use in movies and television shows and for sale in compilation albums. The Ronnettes received no royalty payments for the licensing and sales of their songs. The Ronnettes sued PRI and Spector, contending the 1963 agreement did not permit PRI’s licensing of Ronnettes songs in the 1980s and demanded royalties. The trial court awarded the Ronnettes $3 million in damages. The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the contract, by its silence, did not grant PRI the right to license songs for movies and television or for compilation albums. PRI and Spector appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Graffeo, J.)

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