A collection of record labels sued Pandora this week in an effort to compel the digital music heavyweight to pay royalties to artists and rights holders when a pre-1972 song is played.
A loophole in federal copyright law has subjected pre-1972 recordings — songs from iconic bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — to a hodgepodge of state laws. Songs recorded before 1972 don't require that royalty payments be paid to artists and labels.
The suit was filed in New York, where the legislature passed a law requiring digital performance royalties be paid to artists and rights holders when services like Pandora, SiriusXM and others stream a song online. Legislation seeking to give rights holders of pre-1972 songs similar copyright protections in Tennessee failed in the General Assembly this session.
The plaintiffs are Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG recordings, Warner Music Group and ABKCO Music & Records, each members of the Recording Industry Association of America.
"I'm a big fan of SiriusXM and Pandora but I just can't understand why both companies are intentionally refusing to compensate artists like me. It's a historic injustice that there exists a deliberate refusal to compensate artists such as myself and all of my peers who made recordings before 1972 because of a quirk in the U.S. copyright laws," soul artist Sam Moore said in a prepared statement.
"Because I have been fortunate enough in my career to have recorded after February 1972, I do get compensation from both networks, so I know firsthand what the value of and the life-changing impact those payments mean to myself and my post-'72 peers," Moore said.
One outspoken advocate for paying artists digital royalties for pre-1972 songs is Mark Volman, a founding member of the pop band the Turtles and professor at Belmont University.
The Turtles have filed lawsuits in California, New York and Florida seeking satellite radio companies such as SiriusXM to compensate artists for their pre-1972 work.
The new lawsuit comes against the backdrop of continued talks in Congress about the need for broad copyright reform to modernize federal laws and account for advances in technology, such as popular streaming services.
Songwriters and publishers have complained that royalty payments from Pandora are inadequate, leading to a federal rate court lawsuit that was decided earlier this year, though most observers believe Pandora came out the winner in that dispute.