public performance of sound recording

On Friday, the US District Court in the Southern District of NY found that there is a public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings in that state, following two decisions from California finding a similar right under California law (though on different grounds).  Like the first decision in California (about which we wrote here), this decision was the result of a law suit by Flo and Eddie of the Turtles against Sirius XM, arguing that Sirius XM was infringing on their rights by playing old Turtles songs without paying the duo (who now own the Turtles’ copyrights) any compensation.  Unlike the California decision which looked to specific language in the California statute about ownership of pre-1972 sound recordings, the NY Court reaches a decision in some ways broader than the California decision, but potentially also in some ways narrower.  What does it mean for the many businesses that play such recordings?

There is no public performance right in sound recordings generally in the United States, with the limited exception of the public performance of such recordings in a digital medium.  Sound recordings had not been covered by Federal copyright law at all until 1972, when they were covered for purposes of protecting reproductions and distributions and other general rights, but Federal law specifically did not include this public performance right in sound recordings until the 1990s.  When sound recordings were added to Federal law in 1972, the regulation of pre-1972 sound recordings was specifically left to state regulation (where it had been prior to Federalization).  The limited digital performance right was adopted in a series of laws enacted in the late 1990s, as fears of digital piracy based on Internet and other digital transmissions grew.  So webcasters, satellite radio, digital cable radio and other digital users of sound recordings have paid a royalty for the performance of such recordings.  That royalty is set by the Copyright Royalty Board (see our article here about the most recent CRB proceeding to set rates), paid by noninteractive services to SoundExchange, and distributed by SoundExchange to copyright holders and artists. For interactive services (like Spotify or iTunes or Rhapsody), the performance rights have to be directly negotiated with the copyright holder, leading to disputes like the recent decision of Taylor Swift to pull her new album from Spotify (see our article here about the difference between interactive and noninteractive services).  As the 1990s adoption of the limited public performance right in sound recordings was a Federal act, most observers believed that there was no public performance right in sound recordings for pre-1972 recordings, as there never had been one prior to Federalization (despite many attempts by artists and labels to have one included in the law)(see our article here when the Flo and Eddie suit was first filed). 
Continue Reading New York Court Finds Public Performance Right in Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – How Will This Affect Businesses that Use Music?

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?