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February 6, 2014 | Music Notes Blog

Standing Up For Artists Of 50's, 60s's & 70's: Latest On 'Pre-72' SiriusXM Case

As a quick refresher, RIAA member companies sued SiriusXM last fall in California for refusing to pay for its use of music made before 1972, despite repeatedly playing these popular songs on various SiriusXM channels.

More specifically, SiriusXM plays music that was recorded before February 15, 1972 by transmitting high-quality digital versions of those recordings to more than 25 million paying customers – all the while refusing to pay the artists who created these cultural treasures. These songs are some of the most iconic of all time – music by artists such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Supremes, Bob Dylan, and hundreds of others – so it’s inconceivable and a strong injustice that SiriusXM refuses to pay. It’s a wrong we’re trying to right.

Which is why, on behalf of group of independent and major record labels, RIAA recently asked a court in California on Monday to affirm that California law recognizes a right of digital public performance for sound recordings that were created before February 15, 1972 (a copy of the filing is available upon request). Doing so will ensure that companies such as SiriusXM that transmit these pre-‘72 recordings to their subscribers from satellites or over the Internet pay the artists and music labels who created those recordings for SiriusXM’s use of them. (Keep in mind that through a quirk in U.S. copyright law, only sound recordings made after 1972 are protected under federal law. Congress, however, has made clear that states are free to protect recordings made before 1972. We’re simply asking a judge to affirm that California state law protects sound recordings made before 1972).

What does this mean? For more than 40 years, California law has explicitly recognized the existence of property rights in pre-’72 recordings. Those property rights have for many years protected the creators and owners of those recordings and allowed them to make money from selling copies of those recordings to the public as vinyl records, audio tapes, and CDs. But as we all know, times have changed and the music industry has completely transformed itself. Fans now enjoy access to music through a variety of digital platforms, including the ones that SiriusXM offers. But unlike the other digital platforms that DO pay legacy artists, SiriusXM simply refuses. It flies in the face not only of California law but of the basic principles of fairness.

As a multi-billion dollar business, it’s fair to say that SiriusXM is a successful company. We applaud them for their success. But their business model only works when there’s music. Artists from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s have given fans a reason to dance and sing for decades, and fans seek out stations that feature their great music. These artists deserve payment for their work. It’s only right and it’s only fair.

The RIAA Team