Broadcast radio groups become new targets of pre-1972 music licensing litigation

gavel canvasTraditional radio is now a litigation target over music licensing of pre-1972 recordings, thanks to an action filed in a California state court by ABS Entertainment.

As we have regularly been reporting, Pandora and Sirius XM have been defending lawsuits filed in state courts by owners of recorded music produced before 1972. The so-called pre-1972 music licensing issue hinges on a loophole on federal copyright law, which fails to protect oldies produced before the law took effect in February, 1972.

Plaintiffs have taken to state-court actions to sidestep the federal exemption. In June, Sirius XM reached a settlement with the three major labels (Sony, Warner, Universal) and ABKCO, relieving the satcaster from litigation from those companies through 2019. Flo and Eddie, another pre-1972 litigant, challenged that settlement, but the challenge failed.

Now, ABS Entertainment, a rights-holder for Al Green, Willie Mitchell, and other artists, has filed a complaint in a California state court, targeting three major radio groups: iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media, and CBS.

In this interesting milestone along the twisting pre-1972 highway, the defendants operate primarily on a platform — over-the-air radio — which is federally exempt from paying label royalties entirely. That exemption does not cover radio-station webcasts, though, which is certainly part of the complaint. the filing also mentions broadcast radio and HD radio. So, it could be that the lawsuit will reach beyond streaming performances of pre-1972 recordings, as a test of how state law interprets over-the-air liability.

Brad Hill


  1. The answer is simple. Stop playing music prior to 1972….all of the music recorded prior to 1972 no longer has mass appeal to the A25-54 demo. As time passes, this music’s appeal declines even more. Why waste time and money on an era of music that’s becoming irrelevant.

    • It seems all they should have to do is stop streaming it, which may be an even simpler task, and affect even fewer listeners outside of 25-54.

    • There are plenty of baby boomers out there who would be upset about that.

    • Not true. Go to a Paul McCartney concert or a Rolling Stones concert or an Eagles concert and you’ll find plenty of people in the 25-54 age group in attendance because they enjoy that music.

      • Exactly! Some of my friends are in their forties and are major Elvis fans. Don’t assume every 25-54 year-old finds that music irrelevant.

  2. “Pre ’72” music is SO much better than the drivel which is being released today!

    • I agree. Timeless music is music that transcends the ages. Music that generation after generation can enjoy. Decades ago, performers like Michael Jackson and the Beatles transformed the face of music when they ruled the airwaves, showcasing their own unique display of talent and amassing a loyal base of fans who continued on their legacies by introducing their children and grandchildren to their classic tracks. But one has to wonder, is the music of today the type of music that we can see being passed down through generations? Some people judge timeless music by the amount of sales and popularity that an artist has. Many artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Justin Beiber, and Taylor Swift rule the charts and sales at this point in music, but does it really mean that their music will stand the test of time?

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