Record Labels Win Ruling Over Sirius XM’s Use of Pre-1972 Songs

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The record industry will be securing compensation for pre-1972 recordings from services like SiriusXM and Pandora after a California State judge ruled in its favor.  The ruling was issued Tuesday by Judge Mary Strobel, a year after a group of independent and major record labels sued SiriusXM for using songs recorded before 1972 without paying the artists. Strobel said in August that she would side with Sirius XM but changed her this ruling on Tuesday.

And what of the Turtles (the band who initially filed the suit alleging the satellite radio giant was misappropriating their songs without authorization and compensation)?  Their suit seeks $100 million in damages.

For those who do not know, this suit stems from a bit of a disconnect between Federal and State copyright law.  Federal copyright law was not extended to sound recordings until 1972, but the record labels have asserted that such pre-1972 performances are covered by California common law and state statute.

The state court suit was filed in September, 2013, by Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings and Warner Music Group, as well as ABKCO, the label representing a variety of musicians. Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the rulings underline the labels’ position.

“Two courts have now handed down landmark decisions which confirm what should be obvious – the pioneers of rock and roll and every other genre before 1972 deserve to be compensated when their music is used by companies like SiriusXM,” Sherman said. It’s increasingly clear that SiriusXM, Pandora and other digital music firms who refuse to pay legacy artists and rights holders are on the wrong side of history and the law.  It’s time for that to change.”

The record labels assert in their suit that SiriusXM has reproduced the recordings — from artists including the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Aretha Frankin and the Supremes— and copied them to its servers for transmission to its subscribers but has refused to pay public performance royalties for pre-1972 music.

Sirius XM had no immediate comment on the ruling.

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