The ruling is a victory for Capitol, which sued Naxos over the budget label's reissues of 1930s recordings featuring Yehudi Menuhin, Pablo Casals, and others. The recordings were originally released by Gramophone, which is now a part of EMI/Capitol.
The British copyright on the records, which lasts only 50 years, has expired, and U.S. federal copyright doesn't protect recordings made before 1972. But the New York Court of Appeals found that common law—the body of unwritten civil law created by court rulings—gives Capitol the right to royalties from the reissues.
"I hope the companies who have been included to copy older classical recordings realize the New York court has spoken definitively on this and end any unlicensed copying, said Philip Allen Lacouvara, an attorney for Capitol.
The case could have a broad impact on record company practices, especially as the copyrights expire on British rock recordings made during the 1950s and '60s.