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La Cienega Music Company v. ZZ Top

53 F.3d 950 (1995)

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La Cienega Music Company v. ZZ Top

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

53 F.3d 950 (1995)

Facts

La Cienega Music Company (La Cienega) (plaintiff) owned the rights to three versions of a song, which were recorded on phonorecords and sold to the public in 1948, 1950, and 1970. Bernard Besman, the sole proprietor of La Cienega and one of the original composers of the first two versions of the song, registered copyrights on the three versions of the song in 1967, 1970, and 1992, respectively. However, Besman never renewed the registrations. In 1973, ZZ Top (defendant), a blues-rock band, released an album containing a song similar to the La Cienega songs. La Cienega filed suit against ZZ Top in district court, alleging that ZZ Top had plagiarized the La Cienega songs and thus infringed La Cienega’s copyright. Under the Copyright Act of 1909, an unpublished work retains state common-law protection until it is either published or registered pursuant to the act. ZZ Top argued that the La Cienega songs were published when the recordings were released in 1948, 1950, and 1970 and therefore that the songs were within the public domain. Conversely, La Cienega argued that the songs were not published until they were registered in 1967, 1970, and 1992, respectively, and therefore that they retained common-law protection up until that time, pursuant to the 1909 act. The district court held that the recordings were within the public domain and dismissed the case. La Cienega appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (O’Scannlain, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Fernandez, J.)

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