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California Court Finds SiriusXM Liable in Copyright Case

The Turtles case involved pre-1972 recordings

Growing digital audio services could be hampered by additional music copyright licensing costs if a new court ruling stands.

A U.S. District Court judge in California has ruled that SiriusXM violated state laws by airing pre-1972 recordings by The Turtles. One of their most famous 1960s hits songs is “Happy Together,” and it’s one of the tracks that is part of the case.

Current federal copyright law exempts pre-1972 music recordings from licensing. That’s why Turtles founding members Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, under their “Flo & Eddie” corporation, sued the satcaster in state court in 2013. They alleged SiriusXM aired and streamed 15 songs “without paying royalties,” according to the court decision.

SiriusXM is also copying the recordings to its databases and libraries, according to the plaintiffs, and thus violating California copyright law “and constitutes misappropriation, conversion and an unlawful and unfair business practice.”

The ’60s band filed a similar suit against Pandora as well, we’ve reported.

Judge Philip Gutierrez denied claims related to song reproduction, saying the plaintiffs had not met the burden of proof. However, he found SiriusXM liable for misappropriation and breach of California’s unfair competition law.

On the issue of damages; the satcaster had contended there are none because Flo and Eddie cannot identify a lost sale or diminished licensee fee as a result of SiriusXM airing their recordings. However, Judge Gutierrez states SiriusXM’s “unauthorized performances alone establish conversion damages in the form of license fees” that the company should have paid Flo and Eddie. No exact damages figure was set.

Observers say the ruling could expand the scope of music covered under copyright laws, something the music industry has been lobbying for in Congress.

SiriusXM has not publicly said whether it intends to appeal.