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Flo & Eddie’s pre-1972 settlement with Sirius could net $99 million for heritage artists

By | Published on Wednesday 30 November 2016

Flo & Eddie

US satellite radio station Sirius XM could hand over nearly $100 million to heritage artists as part of a settlement with one-time Turtles Flo & Eddie over pre-1972 sound recordings.

As previously reported, it was announced earlier this month that Sirius had reached a deal with Flo & Eddie ahead of a scheduled court hearing that was set to discuss what damages the media firm must pay in relation to recordings previously played that pre-date 1972.

Flo & Eddie sued Sirius in three American states over a dispute as to whether or not Sirius was obliged to pay royalties to artists and labels when it plays recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, like those of the plaintiffs’ former band The Turtles. This was up for debate because of some complexities in US copyright law.

In America, unlike most other countries, AM/FM radio stations only pay royalties to the owners of song copyrights and not sound recording copyrights. But US-wide federal copyright law does say that online and satellite radio services must pay artists and labels as well, usually via the Sound Exchange system.

However, said Sirius, federal copyright law only covers sound recordings since 1972, with earlier records protected by state law. Given state-level copyright law doesn’t tend to distinguish between AM/FM and satellite radio – and given AM/FM stations aren’t paying any royalties on sound recordings – Sirius shouldn’t have to either on older tracks, or so argued the media firm.

Not so, said the Californian courts, which reckoned that, actually, sound recording owners probably were due royalties under Californian law when their older tracks were broadcast, even though that technically meant AM/FM stations should also have been paying royalties on those older records and never had.

Following that ruling, Sirius subsequently reached a $210 million deal with the major labels regarding their old catalogue, but that settlement didn’t include Flo & Eddie, or other artists and independents in a similar situation to the former Turtles who could also benefit from the latter’s successful lawsuit as a result of it being granted ‘class action’ status.

It was this month’s settlement that benefited Flo & Eddie themselves and other members of their class and, according to Reuters, terms of that proposed settlement were filed with the court on Monday for judicial approval.

Under the deal, Sirius commits to pay at least $25 million to cover past uses of pre-1972 recordings. That figure could rise to $40 million, depending on the outcome of Flo & Eddie’s other lawsuits on this issue in New York and Florida, which are both currently subject to appeal. The deal also sets out a ten year licensing arrangement that could be worth an estimated $45 to $59 million, again depending on the outcome of the outstanding litigation. The package could, therefore, total $99 million.

Sirius, which denies any wrongdoing in the settlement, has yet to comment on the arrangement, though a legal rep for Flo & Eddie told reporters that his clients “had the tenacity to stay the course over three gruelling years of litigation on behalf of all members of the class, because they believed in what was right”.