This Is Copyrighted?

Defense Tech is reporting that the Warner/Electric/Atlantic conglomerate of music labels gave up its defense in a copyright case against their artist Wilco. It seems Wilco sampled from Irdial-Disc’s compilation of recordings from mysterious radio stations that everybody expects to be related to espionage (and clearly emanate from government buildings and embassies). Nobody argues that Wilco sampled from a previously recorded work, the argument was weather Irdial’s work was itself copyrightable. Copyfight covered this on Monday with this quote:

The numbers stations are broadcast anonymously and more or less everyone acknowledges they have something to do with international espionage. For this reason, the recordings themselves are probably either not covered by copyright at all (in the case of recordings made by the United States government) or are protected by rights that are extremely unlikely to be enforced, since doing so would blow the broadcaster’s cover.

Well, it turns out they couldn’t have been more wrong. The parties have settled and Wilco has agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages. “How exactly, they’re wondering, does a guy get ownership over something he taped off of the radio?” The Defense Tech blogger has a Wired story on the matter, and includes this quote from Irdial’s owner:

[They’re] is not going to fight a case to diminish its own ability to protect its intellectual property; in other words, if we had lost the case it would have been a most unwelcome outcome for them and all of their shell labels.

Anyone could have pointed to the created caselaw to defend the copying of recordings from CDs where the source signal was not copyrightable or not owned outright by the recordist, making all the nature discs, CDs of primitive musics, and other audio exotica put out by labels completely up for grabs by the sample manipulators.

There is no reason why we should not have brought this case. In fact, it would have been completely wrong of us to knowingly let this infringement go unchallenged.

[UPDATE]: The story gets more complex as a third party is claiming to have made the original Yankee Hotel Foxtrot recording (listen here) that appears in the Irdial collection. This may be as exciting as copyright litigation gets.