Sirius XM Loses Lawsuit on Pre-1972 Royalties

A federal judge in California ruled yesterday that Sirius XM satellite radio is liable for copyright infringement because, up until this point, it has not paid royalties on recordings made prior to 1972. This particular case was filed by members of the band The Turtles. Sirius and other such companies have argued that they are not responsible for these royalties because, according to federal law, copyright applies only to recordings made on or after Feb. 15, 1972. However, it was argued by The Turtles that their copyrights are still protected under state law.

The New York Times reports that besides California, the group filed suits in Florida and New York, for over $100 million dollars. And the implications of this verdict may be even wider. Several major record companies have now filed suits of their own against Sirius XM and Pandora Media. In addition, music industry groups are lobbying Congress to change the laws governing pre-1972 recordings such as Sound Exchange’s promotion of the Respect Act.

It’s too soon to know the precedent that this particular case will set for US and state law. However, as Sound Exchange estimates that $60 million in royalties from pre-1972 recordings are left uncollected every year, there is potential for large ramifications.

Ultra Records Sues YouTube Star Michelle Phan

Ultra Records filed a complaint of copyright infringement against Michelle Phan this month in Los Angeles. Ultra names Kaskade as an artist Phan uses as a music bed in her YouTube videos. Michelle Phan is a beauty vlogger with 6.75 million subscribers on YouTube. She shows how to use different beauty products to her viewers with formal branded product recommendations embedded in the video. For an example, see this video  “Night Life Favorites” that shows makeup application, what items to bring on your night out, and logos of the products presented, which uses Kaskade’s song “4AM” and has been viewed 1.4 million times.

What should Michelle Phan have done? Obtained a synchronization license for the music from Ultra Records before posting the video. Here is Billboard’s article, then check out the debate amongst Phan fans in the comments section of the video’s page:

GulZoraKhan — “I would never know the majority of the music Michelle plays in her videos if she didn’t use them. So they record company should be thanking her for promoting their songs and listing it in the information bar rather then suing her.”

schoolgeek2b — “Umm if another person on YouTube stole her videos and profited on it, do you not think that Michelle would react?…”

“Happy Birthday” Song Copyright Dispute

Here is an interesting fact: Warner/Chappell Music Publishing claims to still own the copyright for the music and lyrics to the song “Happy Birthday”. The Guinness Book of Records says the song is the most recognizable in the world (1998 edition). Warner/Chappell acquired another publisher, Birch Tree Hill, that registered the copyright in 1935, therefore that copyright is extended through the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. But there is a lawsuit filled in US District Court that claims that the melody of the song comes from a song penned by the Hill sisters in 1893, called “Good Morning To All”. Therefore does not qualify for the exemption and is now in the public domain. from Variety’s website: “The suits filed last summer contend that Warner/Chappell has been collecting license fees for the song even though it is in the public domain. The plaintiffs claim that the song “is neither copyrighted nor copyrightable,” and that the public began singing it “no later than the early 1900s.”” The Judge will first decide if Warner/Chappell owns the copyright, then, depending on the outcome, will look at what other laws have been broken. There is potential this could grow into a class action lawsuit to recover money previously paid for the license. Curious what “Good Morning to All” sounds like? Here is a quieter version on YouTube.