SiriusXM lost in a legal battle against The Turtles’ Flo & Eddie, over the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings. The plaintiffs seek $100 million in damages.
The lawsuit involved music created prior to the period when sound recordings began to fall under federal copyright protection. Flo & Eddie claimed SiriusXM did not seek authorization (and did not pay royalties) to play songs including “Happy Together,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and other Turtles hits.
U.S. District Judge Phillip Gutlerrez gave a summary judgment on the issue, after examining a California law from 1982 was meant to address pre-1972 recordings, but did not address whether exclusive ownership of pre-1972 recordings included the exclusive right to publicly perform the recording.
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. 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.”
Plaintiffs lack sufficient evidence that SiriusXM violated reproduction rights by copying recordings on servers. Though the ruling will likely be appealed, it could spur SiriusXM and other music tech companies to lobby Congress for updated copyright laws concerning pre-1972 recordings.
The ruling will potentially open the door to additional lawsuits involving pre-1972 recordings.
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