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.