Copyright Law

Will you stop hearing pre-1972 songs on Pandora? Music service in copyright fight

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Songs released prior to 1972 are exempt from federal copyright protection, but state laws that more generically protect intellectual property should apply, according to a lawsuit various record companies filed against the Internet radio service Pandora Media last week.

Sony, Universal and Warner Music filed the New York State Supreme Court case along with ABKCO, an independent label that controls early Rolling Stones songs, according to the New York Times. Similar suits have been filed against Sirius XM. The Manhattan lawsuit includes a list of songs not protected by federal law, including “Can’t Buy Me Love,” by the Beatles, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones.

“This case presents a classic attempt by Pandora to reap where it has not sown,” the lawsuit (PDF) states. “Pandora appropriates plaintiffs’ valuable and unique property, violates New York law and engages in common law copyright infringement and misappropriation and unfair competition.”

Traditional radio stations are exempt from paying for recordings, according to the New York Times, but do pay separate song writing royalties to music publishers. On-demand music sites, such as Spotify and Rhapsody, which let listeners pick what songs they want to hear, negotiate directly with record companies for a different license.

According to the complaint, pre 1972-songs make up a significant part of the Pandora Service. A Pandora representative told National Journal that the songs represent “a small percentage of overall spins.” Pandora has more than 70 million regular users, according to the article.

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