california law on public performance of sound recordings

As the summer of copyright comes to an end, the music licensing issues which arose causing me to repeatedly write about this extremely contentious season in copyright law are by no means finished (see the most recent of our Summer of Copyright articles here).  In fact, on the first full day of autumn, we received a very interesting decision out of a US District Court in California on the lawsuit brought by Flo and Eddie against Sirius XM, finding that the music service improperly failed to pay royalties for the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings from the duo’s former band, the Turtles (a copy of the decision can be found in this Billboard article).  As we have written before, Flo and Eddie brought suit against Sirius XM, arguing that the service needs to get permission to make public performances of these recordings and, by not doing so, it violated their California state law copyrights. 

Pre-1972 sound recordings first registered in the US are not covered by Federal law, so the current mechanism for Sirius XM to pay for the digital public performance of sound recordings (paying a royalty, set by the Copyright Royalty Board, to SoundExchange) does not exist.  To the surprise of many (including this author) the Court concluded that there is in fact a public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings under California state law, and went on to conclude that Sirius XM violated its obligations under the law to pay for the use of music.  This decision, on a summary decision motion, may quite well be appealed.  The issue is also before many other courts, both in California and elsewhere.  But this decision is certainly worth review, as it could have an impact not only on digital services, but also on any other company that publicly performs such recordings – including other digital music services, bars and restaurants, stadiums, and potentially even broadcasters.
Continue Reading Court Rules in Favor of Flo & Eddie in California Suit Against Sirius XM for Public Performance of Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – What Does This Decision Mean for Broadcasters, Digital Media Companies and Other Music Users?