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Why So Sirius? The Turtles Win Copyright Protections Lawsuit

Posted by Brandon Selinsky on Nov 1, 2014 10:36:53 PM
Brandon Selinsky

What Requires Copyright Protections?

We live in a world where music, art and drama can be live at our fingertips. Just think back a few years to when YouTube didn't exist and live streaming radio stations on the internet such as Pandora and Sirius XM were ideas of the future. However, now, these are all everyday luxuries. Despite all of us being accustomed to having digital music streaming live all day, these digital music businesses have found themselves caught up in unfamiliar territory.

The Turtles Take On Sirius

Last year, a case was filed by members of the 1960s band The Turtles against Sirius XM. If the band name doesn't ring a bell, the song “Happy Together” might.  It’s the band’s most iconic recording.   The Turtles’ lawsuit argues that Sirius XM was playing songs without seeking a license or paying the group royalties; as a result, Sirius XM infringed on its copyright protections under state law. In response to these allegations, Sirius XM stated that by law, federal copyright protections only applies to “recordings made on or after Feb. 15th, 1972.” So who wins here? Both parties on either side of the fence seem to have  valid arguments.

In the first ruling, Judge Philip S. Gutierrez of the United States District Court in Los Angeles granted summary judgment in the Turtles’ favor. For those of us unfamiliar with this term, summary judgment is a judgment as a matter of law. This means that the judgment is entered by a court “for one party and against another” without a full trial. This kind of judgment can be issued on the merits of an entire case or on discrete issues. Judge Gutierrez found that “the group has the exclusive right to its recordings under California Law” and had established “that Sirius XM had infringed on those rights by publicly performing the records without permission.”

It’s Not Quite Over

For now, this case and its decision is limited only to California and it is unclear whether courts in other states will follow this type of ruling.  Digital music companies like Sirius XM hope not. They believe that too broad a ruling would entail a “radical expansion” of intellectual property rights and also place “AM-FM radio stations and retail stores, bars and restaurants in the positions of infringing on copyright for playing music in public.”

The case will undoubtedly be appealed by Sirius, while lawyers and individuals in the music business will continue to watch it closely.  The ultimate decision will have major implications for the future of the industry domestically and internationally.  This damages and royalties at issue in this case alone are around $60 million.  Moreover, The Turtles have expressed plans to sue other digital music companies like Pandora for the same issues. The bottom line: using music of others without paying for it is a risky business.  If you would like more information regarding copyright protections or this case please contact the lawyers at Whitcomb Law, P.C. today.

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Topics: Intellectual Property, Trademark Law