Greenfield v. Philles Records, Inc.
New York Court of Appeals
98 N.Y.2d 562, 780 N.E.2d 166, 750 N.Y.S.2d 565 (2002)
The Ronettes, 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 was subject to a schedule for payment of royalties to the Ronettes. In the paragraph granting PRI full ownership of all recordings made by the Ronettes, 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 Ronettes’ songs for use in movies and television shows and for sale in compilation albums. The Ronettes received no royalty payments for the licensing and sales of their songs. The Ronettes sued PRI and Spector, contending the 1963 agreement did not permit PRI’s licensing of Ronettes songs in the 1980s and demanded royalties. The trial court awarded the Ronettes $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
Holding and Reasoning (Graffeo, J.)
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