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Majors join battle with Sirius XM over pre-1972 recordings

By | Published on Thursday 12 September 2013

Sirius XM

The legal battle against US satellite radio firm Sirius XM is hotting up, as all three majors file litigation against the media company over its use of pre-1972 catalogue.

As previously reported, Sirius utilises a bit of American copyright law that obligates labels to licence their recordings to satellite radio services, collecting their royalties as set by a statutory body via collecting agency SoundExchange. However, say the labels, that is a bit of federal law, and copyrights in works released prior to 1972 are protected by state law, so the compulsory licence doesn’t apply.

Flo & Eddie, aka Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, aka the two vocalists with American rock band The Turtles, a band whose heyday predates 1972, have now filed three lawsuits in the state courts on this issue, in California, Florida and New York. But the majors – Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music – are now following their lead, taking their case to the California Superior Court.

As also previously reported, SoundExchange is also suing Sirius, because it says the satellite radio service has been deducting royalties from what it pays the rights agency based on the percentage of its musical output that predates 1972 (about 10-15%). So even if the compulsory licence did apply to all copyright recordings and not just those directly protected by federal law, Sirius hasn’t been paying for them.

It remains to be seen how Sirius responds to all this. Though AM/FM radio stations in the US – in contrast to Europe – pay nothing to the labels, so the media firm may as yet argue that that principle should apply to catalogue not directly covered by federal copyright law.

Meanwhile in a statement supplied by the Recording Industry Association Of America, Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T & The MGs, who as the house band of Stax Records appeared on countless sixties recordings, said: “It’s an outrage that SiriusXM, a multi-billion [dollar] company making a big profit based partly on the popularity of its oldies channels is refusing to pay any artists like me one penny. That’s not right and that needs to be changed”.