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Songwriters Rejected by U.S. High Court in Yahoo Royalty Fight

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that limits the royalties Internet companies including Yahoo! Inc. and RealNetworks Inc. must pay to songwriters on downloaded music.

The justices today turned away an appeal by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, which licenses about 45 percent of the musical works played online.

ASCAP sought to overturn a ruling that the group said in court papers would cost its 295,000 members tens of millions of dollars a year.

A federal appeals court in New York ruled that the downloading of a musical work isn’t a “public performance” covered under the U.S. copyright laws. That reasoning meant ASCAP couldn’t seek compensation on behalf of its members for the act of downloading, though copyright owners can still demand royalties for the new copies of a song that are created.

The dispute landed in court after ASCAP couldn’t reach licensing agreements with Yahoo and RealNetworks. ASCAP then invoked a procedure set up decades ago under a settlement with the Justice Department, asking a federal judge in Manhattan to determine what licensing fees would be reasonable.

The case is American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers v. United States, 10-1337.

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