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Streaming services hit with another pre-1972 royalties lawsuit

Ponderosa Twins Plus OneA large swath of streaming platforms have been hit with another lawsuit over pre-1972 royalties. The plaintiff is Ricky Spicer, a member of the group Ponderosa Twins Plus One, and he is seeking class action status for his case. Spotify, Apple, Google, SoundCloud, iHeartMedia, Pandora, and Sony Computer Entertainment were all named in the suit, which claims that the audio platforms had the appropriate license for distributing intellectual property owned by members of the Twins.

The legal issue here is one that has been recurring for years in the headlines. Federal copyright law did not take effect until Feb. 15, 1972, and there were no national-level protections for songs recorded prior to that date. Instead, they were subject to state laws, which leaves a potential gap for digital music services that do have all the required federal licenses.

Spicer’s case has an odd angle, with a note in the filing that states some of the defendants may have thought they had licensed the Twins’ album. But Spicer claims that a “phantom party…used back channels and private under-the-table dealings to transfer licenses that ultimately wound up in the hands of Defendants.” More information about this shadowy activity will probably come to light if or when the case progresses.

So far, streaming services have been making settlements on a case-by-case basis in pre-1972 litigation. Pandora paid the RIAA $90 million. Sirius XM paid $210 million to labels. But getting to those settlements often involves lengthy periods of back-and-forth arguments in court.

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Anna Washenko

5 Comments

  1. So what will come of the claim that there were backhanded and under-the-table deals? In 1972, there were a lot more big lables out there, each one probably had their artists sign a contract which also included clauses that indicated the label now owned the rights to the record, not the artists, although the artists would get paid for their work.

    Likely this band got paid for their work, but the airplay here is thought to be very minimal, it will cost far more for the case than it will gain return for the artist suing. Besides, it has been reported here and elsewhere that pre-1972 music accounts for very little of what gets streamed these days anyway, 1972 is 44 years ago.

    As it would happen, the dozens of big lables we knew about in the 1970s merged into the about three labels we have now, those labels either ceased to exist separately or were simply made imprints. The labels also absorbed the contracts with the musicians. All they have to do is present the contract with this band in court and it’s all over. The band loses.

    • Idol Girl’s comment hit the nail on the head. Most people streaming music from that era are streaming the more popular artists – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, The Jackson 5, etc.

      • This is Patently false… One of my clients just received a $10,000 check from this settlement and is on track to average about $1500 per quarter from Pandora alone. She had 2 songs that cracked the top 100 both no higher than #40. This money is VITAL to the survival of many older artists who left the business with no 401K or retirement.

  2. The thing a lot of the these lawsuits have in common: Artists most people have never heard of.

  3. In streaming, when a person skips over garbage they don’t like (see also: content by 5 people in corduroy jump suits) the artist gets credit as though it played. That information should be made public. like in this case, played 100 times and skipped 100 times.

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