A little less distribution for Elvis


London — U.K. distributor Cargo Records has pulled the plug on an Elvis Presley release after Sony BMG Music Entertainment in the U.K. threatened legal action, sources said.

In one of the clearest signs of Sony BMG's tough policy on enforcing the copyright of its vintage Presley works — even though some sound recordings have become part of the public domain — the music major put pressure on Cargo to withdraw "New York: RCA Studio 1: The Complete Sessions." Sony BMG disputed that a handful of outtakes on the album, which was released by Memphis Recording Service, were public domain.

Cargo now won't touch the Memphis release, and the CD has no support from traditional retail outlets. An executive with the distributor, who declined to be identified, described a letter from Sony BMG as a "warning." "To save us the risk of legal action, we decided we wouldn't distribute the item," the Cargo executive said.

The release is still featured on the Cargo Records Web site, but the purchase function has been disabled.

Memphis Recording Service director Joseph Pirzada said in an interview that he responded on behalf of Cargo on three occasions since the letter was received five or six weeks ago but heard nothing in response.

"I've not received a letter, an e-mail or any telephone calls," he said. "I told Sony BMG they were wrong, and that the outtakes on the CD were recorded before June 1, 1957. Which means it is in the public domain."

He added, "I'm not worried and I haven't been worried" and noted that his company has continued to sell the product. But he admits Sony BMG's action had "thrown a spanner in the works."

A Sony BMG spokesman declined to comment in depth on the issue, other than to confirm "that we are in correspondence with them" on the matter. The spokesman added, "it is our policy to keep close scrutiny on any third parties who are thinking of releasing Elvis recordings assuming them to be in the public domain when they may in fact not be."

Memphis Recording Service became headline news in the summer when its Presley release, "My Baby Left Me," entered the Official U.K. Singles Charts at No. 19, becoming the first out-of-copyright recording to be a U.K. Top 40 hit. The song was originally recorded by Presley in 1956 and thus entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2007.

Despite furious lobbying from the music industry, the U.K. government recently backed the Gowers Review, which recommended the copyright term for sound recordings should remain at 50 years.

Lars Brandle is global news editor at Billboard.