This week, after a string of wins, two members of the classic rock group the Turtles suffered a setback in their lawsuit against satellite radio provider, SiriusXM (Flo & Eddie Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio Inc.).
Background: The dispute has been well explained by others, including here and here. But generally speaking, the dispute concerns the rights of artists and record labels to control how recordings made before 1972 get used. Federal copyright law was extended to protect sound recordings made after February 1972. That means that state laws decided what rights and compensation the recording’s owner is entitled to—if any—for pre-1972 recordings.
The plaintiff (Flo & Eddie, Inc.) is a corporation created by two original members of the musical group The Turtles and owns the rights to the group’s master recordings, which include several hits from 1965 to 1969, notably “Happy Together.”
Sirius XM—and other music services, such as Pandora—has been playing Turtles songs along with many other recordings published before 1972. Sirius XM (and others) argued it could use pre-1972 sound recordings without authorization and without compensating the owners.
As a result, Flo & Eddie have brought a series of actions against parties such as SiriusXM and Pandora. Earlier this year, federal district courts in California (in February) and New York (in April) found that the Turtles had exclusive rights under New York and California law, and their claims could proceed.
The Florida Court’s Ruling: The Florida district court ruled there is no public performance right for pre-1972 sound recordings in Florida. This means under Florida law, Sirius XM (and others) do not have to pay these sound recording owners (or artists) for playing their recordings. A copy of the court’s ruling is here.
Takeaway: The rights for the owners of pre-1972 recordings will continue to differ from state to state, though for now, there is little likelihood this result will have an impact beyond Florida.
Update: Just prior to posting, an announcement was made that Sirius reached an agreement with various record labels. According to Reuters and others, although details of the settlement are not available, “[t]he settlement resolves claims by Capitol Records LLC, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings Inc, Warner Music Group and ABKCO Music & Records in a Sept. 2013 lawsuit over songs recorded by the likes of the Beatles, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.”
According to similar sources, this does not impact claims brought by the Turtles or claims brought by the same record labels against Pandora.