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SiriusXM Loses Landmark Copyright Case for Pre-1972 Songs
September 23, 2014
Amanda Marie
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Back in February we reported that SiriusXM Radio was being sued by Sony, Universal, and Warner, over the continued playing of pre-1972 recorded songs without paying any royalties, which was just one of the lawsuits pending against the satellite radio giant. The issue over royalties for pre-1972 songs has been a long-standing dispute for the music industry which has filed numerous lawsuits seeking these royalties. Today, in a landmark case as reported by The Hollywood Reporter, a California federal judge ruled in favor of Flo & Eddie of The Turtles, and declared them the victors in their lawsuit against SiriusXM over the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings. The plaintiffs are seeking $100 million in damages, but the money is only just the beginning of what this ruling can lead to in the future. Many other services like Pandora as well as others are likely to be greatly affected by this. SiriusXM is facing additional lawsuits in other states and Pandora is also facing a lawsuit by record labels in New York.

This specific lawsuit against SiriusXM was filed in August of 2013, and like the other pending lawsuits over the same issue, it all stems from the wording in the California law that was enacted in 1982. In reaching the conclusion, the judge examined that law which was meant to address pre-1972 recordings. The Statute was silent on whether "exclusive ownership" of pre-1972 sound recordings carries within it the exclusive right to publicly perform the recording. The judge had to determine whether or not the California law was inclusive or exclusive, and the judge ruled based on his interpretation and reading of the law, which ended up leading to the decision that there is nothing exclusive about it.

In his decision, Judge Gutierrez wrote that he "infers that the legislature did not intend to further limit ownership rights, otherwise it would have indicated that intent explicitly."

SiriusXM attempted, but failed to persuade the judge that California's law was inexact, and they also had no success in stating that decades of television and radio broadcasters, restaurant and bar owners, website operators and others alike using pre-72 music were also in support of its interpretation of the law.

The judge also wrote, "Although the breadth and specificity of cases acknowledging that exclusive ownership of a sound recording includes the right to publicly perform the recording are slight, Defendant has not directed the Court to a single case cutting against the right to public performance, even implicitly or in dicta."

In summary, this is a major and potentially catastrophic ruling which is likely to have numerous consequences. It’s expected that SiriusXM will most likely appeal as the plaintiffs await a trial that will determine the full extent of damages. A copy of the full court decision can be read here, provided by Music Tech Policy.


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