Major Labels Sue Pandora Over Pre-1972 Songs
April 21, 2014

Late last week, the RIAA filed a lawsuit against Pandora on behalf of Sony Music, UMG, Warner Music and ABKCO; claiming the popular streaming service is underpaying royalties on pre-1972 recordings. It follows a similar lawsuit filed last fall against SiriusXM.

In its announcement of the suit, the RIAA notes that "through a quirk of history," federal copyright law did not protect sound recordings until 1972. Recordings made before 1972 are protected by laws in New York and other states. The RIAA says that while pre-1972 music is among the most popular heard on Pandora, "the company refuses to compensate artists and record labels for the use of those iconic recordings." Additionally, "SoundExchange estimates that the failure of these services to pay for their use of pre-1972 recordings deprives artists and labels of tens of millions of dollars every year - a number that will only increase as these services become more popular."

According to the suit, "Pandora's refusal to pay Plaintiffs for its use of [Pre-72] recordings is fundamentally unfair. Pandora's conduct also is unfair to the recording artists and musicians whose performances are embodied in Pre-72 Recordings, but who do not get paid for Pandora's exploitation of Pre-72 Recordings. It is also unfair to other businesses that compete with Pandora but obtain licenses and pay for the right to stream Plaintiffs' Pre-72 Recordings to the public, while Pandora does not. As a result, Pandora deprives Plaintiffs and their artists of compensation, while profiting enormously from and gaining an unfair advantage over others who do pay to copy and publicly perform Plaintiffs' Pre-72 Recordings."

The RIAA announcement also included quotes from Steve Cropper, Sam Moore, Dionne Warwick and Buddy Holly's widow Maria Elena Holly.

A spokesperson for Pandora told the New York Times that the company is confident in its legal position in the matter, and looks forward to a quick resolution.

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Mark Adams
San Francisco

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