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

A California state judge has ruled in favor of the record industry’s suit to secure compensation for pre-1972 recordings from services like Sirius XM and Pandora.

The ruling was isued 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.

The jurist granted the plaintiffs’ motion for jury instruction, ruling that California law allows states to regulate pre-1972 recordings. She noted that the state law “must be interpreted to recognize exclusive ownership rights as encompassing public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings.”

Strobel had indicated in August that she would side with Sirius XM but changed her tentative ruling Tuesday, citing a recent federal court ruling in a case filed by Flo and Eddie of The Turtles alleging the satellite radio giant was misappropriating their songs without authorization and compensation.

The Turtles suit seeks $100 million in damages.

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 Franklin 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.

Strobel also said in her ruling that requested jury instruction does not require a finding of whether Sirius XM is liable for damages.

Sirius XM had no immediate comment on the ruling.

 

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