Supreme Court Backs Blues Musicians

Tuesday, October 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court refused to free a record company from having to pay damages to a group of Texas blues musicians for unauthorized use of their names and photographs.

The court, without comment Tuesday, turned down the company's argument that the musicians' claim is pre-empted by federal copyright law.

In the early 1990s, Roy C. Ames, a music producer specializing in Texas blues, licensed Collectibles Records of Ardmore, Pa., to sell recordings by a group of Houston-area blues musicians and to use their names and photographs.

The 13 musicians involved in the appeal were among 15 who sued Ames and Collectibles in 1994, saying Ames had no right to license Collectibles' sale of the recordings on compact discs and cassette tapes.

The lawsuit sought damages for copyright violation under federal law, and for unauthorized use of the musicians' names and photographs under state law.

After a trial, the musicians were awarded $1,800 from Collectibles for copyright infringement and $27,000 for misuse of their names and likenesses. Ames, who was not involved in Tuesday's appeal, was ordered to pay $122,500.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the awards. In affirming the $27,000 award, it said federal copyright law does not pre-empt the state-law claims of misusing the musicians' names and likenesses.

Lawsuits over use of a name or likeness aim to protect someone's ``persona,'' not their written work. Therefore such claims are not covered by copyright law, the court said.

In the appeal acted on Tuesday, Collectibles' lawyers said people should not be allowed to collect two sets of damages — one under federal law for copyright violation and another under state law for unauthorized use of their name and likeness.

The musicians' lawyers said copyrights protect only the words and music of a recording, and that Collectibles wants a ``free pass'' for use of their likenesses.

The musicians include Leonard Brown, Walter Price, Pete Mayes, James Nelson and Joe Hughes.

The case is Collectibles v. Brown, 99-2068.


On the Net: For the appeals court ruling in Brown v. Ames: and click on 5th Circuit.