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Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued April 21, 1975 ; June 17, 1975

No. 74-452


 [*152]  [***87]  [**2042]    MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

 The question presented by this case is whether the reception of a radio broadcast of a copyrighted musical composition can constitute copyright infringement, when the copyright owner has licensed the broadcaster to perform the composition publicly for profit.

The respondent George Aiken owns and operates a small fast-service food shop in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa., known as "George Aiken's Chicken." Some customers carry out the food they purchase, while others remain and eat at counters or booths. Usually the "carry-out" customers  [66]  are in the restaurant for less than five minutes, and those who eat there seldom remain longer than 10 or 15 minutes.

A radio with outlets to four speakers in the ceiling receives broadcasts of music and other normal radio programming at the restaurant. Aiken usually turns on the radio each morning at the start of business. Music, news, entertainment, and commercial advertising [****4]  broadcast by radio stations are thus heard by Aiken, his employees, and his customers during the hours that the establishment is open for business.

On March 11, 1972, broadcasts of two copyrighted musical compositions were received on the radio from a  [*153]  local station while several customers were in Aiken's establishment. Petitioner Twentieth Century  [***88]  Music Corp. owns the copyright on one of these songs, "The More I See You"; petitioner Mary Bourne the copyright on the other, "Me and My Shadow." Petitioners are members of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), an association that licenses the performing rights of its members to their copyrighted works. The station that broadcast the petitioners' songs was licensed by ASCAP to broadcast them. 2 Aiken, however, did not hold a license from ASCAP.

 [****5]  The petitioners sued Aiken in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to recover for copyright infringement. Their complaint alleged that the radio reception in Aiken's restaurant of the licensed broadcasts infringed their exclusive rights to "perform" their copyrighted works in public for profit. The District Judge agreed, and granted statutory monetary awards for each infringement. 356 F. Supp. 271. The  [**2043]  United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed that judgment, 500 F. 2d 127, holding that the petitioners' claims against the respondent were foreclosed by this Court's decisions in Fortnightly Corp. v. United Artists, 392 U.S. 390, and Teleprompter Corp. v.  [*154]  CBS, 415 U.S. 394. We granted certiorari. 419 U.S. 1067.

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422 U.S. 151 *; 95 S. Ct. 2040 **; 45 L. Ed. 2d 84 ***; 1975 U.S. LEXIS 156 ****; 186 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 65




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Copyright Law, Scope of Copyright Protection, Ownership Rights, General Overview, Patent Law, Infringement Actions, Exclusive Rights, Constitutional Law, Congressional Duties & Powers, Copyright Infringement Actions, Civil Infringement Actions, Presumptions, Reproductions, Performances, Business & Corporate Compliance, Assignments & Transfers, State Regulations, Licenses, Defenses, Fair Use, Protected Subject Matter, Musical Works, Lyrics