Sirius XM gets another pre-1972 setback, N.Y. judge rules against request for summary dismissal

gavel canvasJudge Colleen McMahon ruled against Sirius XM’s motion for a summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by The Turtles. The satcaster sought to have the lawsuit dismissed without further argument.

Notwithstanding many other media reports, the New York court case is not closed. McMahon’s judgment is strictly a response to Sirius XM’s request for summary dismissal. However, the court statement does threaten Sirius XM with a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, on December 5, if Sirius fails to show cause against that. “It appears to the Court that there are no disputed issues of material fact as to liability,” McMahon’s judgment reads.

That’s enough of a court result for SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe to trumpet victory. “With the court in New York delivering a third strike against Sirius XM for its infringement of pre-72 recordings, we have to ask: How many rulings will it take until Sirius XM does the right thing?  It was clear from the start that denying fair payment to legacy artists was wrong as a matter of fairness and justice. This decision confirms that Sirius XM’s conduct is also wrong as a matter of law.”

The oldies band is seeking $100 million in damages for the satellite radio’s playing its songs from before 1972, when federal copyright laws took effect. McMahon decided that the Turtles have performing rights protection under New York state law, and that the arguments can proceed. “In short, general principles of common law copyright dictate that public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings do exist,” she wrote.

In a separate case earlier this year, another judge had ruled in favor of the Turtles in California. It was hard to gauge the impact of the decision at the time because it was only applied in one state. A preliminary pro-plaintiff summary judgment ruling in New York added momentum to the actions taken by The Turtles. The New York Times reported that recording and broadcasting executives have voiced concerns that Congress will need to weigh in on how AM/FM stations and other public spaces should approach the copyright issue.

Both Sirius XM and Pandora (which is in the same legally vulnerable boat as Sirius) have voiced support for changes to the federal copyright law, which currently does not cover recordings made before February 15, 1972. Both companies have been complying with federal law. As The Turtles and other plaintiffs take recourse in state courts, the disparity between federal and state regulations is highlighted with potentially expensive and complicated results for any company, service, or public performance space which programs pre-1972 music.

RAIN News Staff