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NYC Litigation Blog

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Turtles Are Not Happy About Unauthorized Use of Their Music

Popular 1960’s music group The Turtles are at the center of multiple copyright disputes relating to the unauthorized use of their work by digital media companies.  While most artists must give permission for their songs to be played by sources such as Pandora and Sirius XM, these parties have been playing multiple tracks by The Turtles without this authorization.  The lawsuits brought by the band have highlighted an ambiguity that currently exists in copyright law and that will hopefully be remedied in the near future.

Last year, The Turtles filed multiple lawsuits against Sirius XM in New York, Florida and California, for allegedly playing their music without authorization.  It seems that Sirius was playing these tracks in reliance on an obscure provision of the federal copyright law.  This provision allows recordings made on or before February 5, 1972 ineligible for federal copyright protection.   This means that these recordings can be played without authorization and without paying royalties.  While some state laws do apply to these recordings, it is unclear what they protect.  The Turtle’s demanded over $100 million dollars in damages in the lawsuits brought under the applicable, but haphazard, state laws.  

Recently, a judge in the California case granted the group summary judgment and decided that it was clear that their performance rights have been infringed upon.  This decision is contrary to another recent California decision made in a similar case brought by several major record labels.  

Now, The Turtles have brought a similar suit against the increasingly popular Pandora Media on the same basis.  They are seeking $25 million dollars in the new California lawsuit.  Although Pandora claims that it pays other types of royalties in these situations, the copyright law is unclear and at times conflicting in this area.  The decisions in these cases have the potential to make a major impact on how older music is handled by digital media and other companies in the future and could entitle the owners of these works to large amounts of compensation.  

If you have a copyright issue that seems unclear, an experienced attorney can help to demystify it for you.  Call New York, New York copyright infringement attorney Thomas M. Lancia (212)964-3157 for a consultation today.

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