SHERIDAN et al.
MELTON, Presiding Justice.
case regarding the interpretation of Georgia's Criminal
Reproduction and Sale of Recorded Material statute, OGCA
§ 16-8-60, the United States District Court for the
Middle District of Georgia has certified the following
question for our consideration:
Whether the exemption to OCGA §16-8-60, set forth in
§ 16-8-60 (c) (1), applies such that internet radio
services are exempt from application of § 16-8-60?
reasons set forth below, we find that the type of internet
radio services being offered by iHeartMedia, Inc. in this
case do fall under the exemption set forth in OCGA §
16-8-60 (c) (1).
underlying facts of this case, as set forth by the District
Court, show that Arthur and Barbara Sheridan are the owners
of several pre-1972 master sound recordings of certain
popular songs, as well as the associated intellectual
property and contract rights. iHeartMedia is an operator of
AM/FM radio stations, sometimes referred to as terrestrial
stations, as well as internet radio services. These latter
services allow listeners to access and listen to a song
through an internet-connected device such as a tablet,
computer, or smartphone. It is undisputed that iHeartMedia
streamed the Sheridans' recordings to listeners over its
internet radio platform, iHeartRadio. It is also undisputed that
iHeartMedia has no license, authority, or consent from the
Sheridans to stream the recordings, and iHeartMedia has not
compensated the Sheridans for the use of their recordings.
September 29, 2015, the Sheridans filed a complaint against
iHeartMedia alleging violations of OCGA § 16-8-60,
which prohibits the transfer of sound recordings without
permission and provides criminal sanctions for
violators. The Sheridans claim that iHeartMedia
needed their consent to transfer their master sound
recordings to iHeartRadio listeners, and that iHeartMedia
engaged in racketeering activity by making unauthorized
transfers. See OGCA § 16-14-1. iHeartMedia moved to
dismiss the Sheridans' complaint under the radio
broadcast exemption in OCGA § 16-8-60 (c) (1), which
states that OCGA § 16-8-60 does not apply to "any
person who transfers or causes to be transferred any such
sounds or visual images intended for or in connection with
radio or television broadcast transmission or related
uses." This motion prompted the District Court to
certify the question now before us.
Our well established rules of statutory interpretation
that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it
meant. To that end, we must afford the statutory text its
plain and ordinary meaning, we must view the statutory text
in the context in which it appears, and we must read the
statutory text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an
ordinary speaker of the English language would . . . [and] if
the statutory text is clear and unambiguous, we attribute to
the statute its plain meaning, and our search for statutory
meaning is at an end.
(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Deal v.
Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 173 (1) (a) (751 S.E.2d 337)
(2013). On its face, OCGA § 16-8-60 (c) (1) provides an
exemption for both radio broadcast transmissions
and related uses. If iHeartMedia's internet
radio services fall under either of these categories, the
prohibitions of OCGA § 16-8-60 do not apply to
services provided by iHeartRadio do qualify, at the least, as
a related use to a radio broadcast transmission for two main
reasons: (1) the user experiences offered by iHeartMedia and
terrestrial AM/FM radio are substantially similar and (2) the
nature of the streaming of sound recordings by iHeartRadio
and the nature of the broadcast by terrestrial AM/FM radio
are qualitatively the same.
with regard to user experience, iHeartRadio is nearly
identical to terrestrial AM/FM radio. For example, one of
iHeartMedia's internet services, "simulcast, "
concurrently broadcasts the exact programming offered by its
terrestrial radio stations over the internet. The only
difference for the listener is that the music would be
accessed through an internet-connected device such as a
smartphone or computer, rather than a traditional radio
receiver. iHeartMedia's other radio service, which allows
users to "build" their own station around a
particular song, band, genre, etc., provides for more user
input, but is not an on demand service, and ultimately
resembles someone selecting a terrestrial AM/FM station based
on the station's advertised genre of music. Therefore,
from the perspective of the listener, a shift from an AM/FM
radio to an internet radio service would mean only minor
changes to the user's experience.
with regard to the nature of the sound transmission, internet
radio services provide sound recordings in a very similar way
as terrestrial AM/FM radio, though some technological
differences exist. iHeartRadio digitally broadcasts a track
to the listener for a single use, and then the track
disappears from the listener's device. Practically, this
is identical to the manner in which a listener experiences
AM/FM radio broadcast sound recordings - the song is only
temporarily played by the user's radio. In either format,
the listener may enjoy the recording, but the transmission of
the recording is not stored for replaying.
because there is no significant difference in either the user
experience or the nature of the broadcast of sound recordings
between terrestrial AM/FM and internet transmissions of the
type offered by iHeartMedia in this case, the latter is a
related use of the former. Accordingly, we answer the
certified question as follows: The exemption to OCGA
§16-8-60, set forth in § 16-8-60 (c) (1), applies
such that internet radio services of the type offered by
iHeartMedia are exempt from application of OCGA
answered. All ...