AOL and other online services are not required to pay performance royalties on music downloaded over the Internet, according to a New York federal court. The court held that downloading a song is not a public performance of the song under copyright law.
Both parties had asked for partial summary judgment on the question of whether Internet downloads of music constitutes “performance” of music under the Copyright Act.
U.S. District Judge William C. Conner, found that a download involves copying a file from one computer to another. The file is stored on a recipient’s hard drive and can be copied to other devices such as digital music players.
Downloading, is a reproduction of a copyrighted work, but it is not a public performance right, Judge Conner said. The judge cited statements from the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which have taken the position that digital downloads of music are not public performances of those works.
On the other hand, “streaming” is when a song is transmitted over the Internet to be listened to in real time. The file is not stored on the recipient's computer and must be “streamed” again each time the recipient wants to listen to it. The court acknowledged that streaming music is a public performance. United States v. American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers et al., No. 41-1395, 2007 WL 1346568 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 25, 2007).