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The European Court of Justice, the continent’s highest court, held on Tuesday that Sony Music Entertainment may claim the rights to three of Bob Dylan’s earliest albums: The Times They Are A-Changin’, Highway 61 Revisted, and Bringin’ It All Back Home. A German record label claimed that it owned the rights to these albums because they were all released prior to 1966, the year Germany first passed its copyright laws. The ECJ ruling goes against a prior decision from the Bundesgerichtshof, Germany’s highest court, which agreed with the label, Falcon Neue Medien Vetrieb GmbH.
Sony argued that a 2006 European Union-created law recognizing pre-1966 copyrights should apply as long as they were registered in at least one E.U. member state. The court agreed and legitimized the copyright that Sony had registered in the U.K. Although the issue will return to German courts for formal reconsideration, the ECJ opinion all but solidifies Sony’s right to distribute such legendary Dylan tunes as “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Maggie’s Farm.”
This opinion clears up a formerly foggy area of copyright law and restores many creative works to their proper owners. Had the ECJ decided otherwise, many authors, musicians, playwrights, and other artists would be the victims of a curious loophole in European intellectual property law. Now, barring a radical reaction from the high German court, these artists will stand to profit from their works, not only in Germany, but in other European courts that were late to formulate copyright laws.
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