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Spotify, Pandora Face Legal Headwinds

Do radio companies need to pay royalties for pre-1972 music?

SACRAMENTO � Wixen Music Publishing, which licenses music from about 200 artists, including Tom Petty, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Missy Elliott, and Janis Joplin, is suing Spotify for $1.6 billion, according to The Verge. The lawsuit was filed in California on Dec. 29, and alleges that Spotify has been using �thousands of songs� without the correct license. Wixen also asserts that Spotify doesn�t do enough to identify the rights holders of songs it licenses from labels.

On Jan. 12, Carly Simon, Carole King, Melissa Etheridge, the Isley Brothers and others urged California�s highest court to side with members of the 1960s band The Turtles in their copyright dispute with music streaming service Pandora Music Inc over songs recorded before 1972, according to Reuters. The artists said in an amicus brief that the California Supreme Court should rule that Pandora infringed on their copyrights by airing pre-1972 songs without paying royalties.

So: Do radio companies need to pay royalties for pre-1972 music? �Right now, digital radio stations such as SiriusXM and iHeartRadio pay royalties to artists for most of the music they play. It’s real money: Digital streams make up half of all music business revenue, pushing $4 billion a year,� says Duke Fakir, rock n� roll hall of famer, and founding member of the Four tops, in an op-ed in �A lot of that money goes to independent artists, backup singers, session players and sidemen � including a generation of lost greats who may have played a lot but didn’t get paid a lot. It’s money these folks count on to pay rent, buy groceries, cover medical bills and support their families.

�But there’s a catch: Those stations don’t pay royalties on music recorded before 1972. Because federal copyright law doesn’t cover recorded music before 1972, some of the huge services that play music from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s have managed to get away with this inequity. Songwriters and music publishers may be getting paid, but the artists and the owners of the sound recordings are not,� said Fakir.

US-wide federal copyright law only protects sound recordings released since 1972, with older tracks protected by state-level copyright law, according to In the US, AM/FM radio stations don�t pay royalties to artists and labels, but online and satellite stations do. However, because that rule comes from federal law, online services like Pandora and satellite broadcaster Sirius decided that they didn�t have to hand over any payment whenever the tracks they were playing pre-dated 1972.

The online companies are definitely at a disadvantage when compared to over-the-air radio companies.�