Appeals Court Judge Delivers a Stunning Blow to Oldies Artists (Updated)

'Oldies' Band The Turtles, 1967 Publicity Photo (Public Domain)

The Turtles, 1967 Publicity Photo (Public Domain)

It’s a case that’s been see-sawing for years, with hundreds of millions in royalties at stake.  Now, oldies recording artists like The Turtles have been given their biggest blow yet.

Updated Fri. Feb 17th 7:30 am PT to include comments from music industry attorney Helene Freeman.

You could say the world has bigger problems.  But try telling that to the Turtles, a group that’s been fighting the likes of Pandora and Sirius XM Radio for years.

Today, an appeals court judge issued another stunning blow, both to The Turtles and oldies artists nationwide.  According to a decision issued today by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, The Turtles (and other oldies artists) cannot collect royalties on the recordings of their works in New York.  At least those recorded prior to 1972 (which covers most of it).

In fact, millions of oldies artists simply aren’t eligible based on the language of copyright laws.

The Turtles scored their biggest hit in 1967 with “Happy Together”.

Specifically, the challenge was brought by Sirius XM Holdings Inc., a company seeking to avoid hundreds of millions in royalties to oldie artists.  Earlier, the band prevailed on the national stage, though Sirius fought based on a patchwork of contradictory state laws on pre-1972 recordings.

Just ahead of Christmas, Sirius secured a victory in New York’s Court of Appeals that overturned the earlier decision.  The similarly named 2nd U.S. Circuit Court has now accepted that ruling.

Back in 2014, U.S. District judge Colleen McMahon ruled that Sirius and other companies had to pay for the older recordings.  But like many court battles, that was just the start of a long-term war.

Next step: Congress?

As part of the class action, Sirius was on the hook for nearly $100 million in royalties.  But this is likely a done deal, at least on the judicial front.

Helene Freeman, co-counsel for Led Zeppelin in their long-running battle to protect ‘Stairway to Heaven’ against copyright infringement claims, calls this one a ‘death knell’. “The NY Court of Appeals decision in December likely spelled the death knell for efforts to secure performance rights for pre-1972 sound recordings in the courts under existing law,” Freeman emailed DMN.

 

That means pursuing legislative channels, though it’s unclear if the current Congress cares about music industry problems.  “For artists and record labels, their hope for any change must now shift to Congress, where there have been efforts to amend the Copyright Law is on-going.  Attention should also shift to state legislatures, which can pass their own legislation to protect the rights of owners of pre-1972 that are not protected by federal law.”

16 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Remi Swierczek

    100,000 Radio stations, 7 stupefied streamers and 4 million places operating as a discovery based music stores could collect billions on originals and remixes hitting the air!
    Let’s STOP UMG induced streaming suicide. Ek’s dope and YouTube/Vevo pirrate/slave business models will conclude with $25B music sarcophagus in 2025!
    Labels have to work with or start a fight with Google for survival of music industry and musicians.

    Anyone how doesn’t see $200B to $300B in annual music goodwill SHOULD NOT BE AT THE HELM OF MUSIC BUSINESS!

      • Avatar
        ruthc

        It’s wrong. But as I said earlier, there will be lawyers. I read Hillary Clinton was behind it, also.

  2. Avatar
    The WiZaRd

    Well, I guess the judge is not gonna be
    “Happy Together” when he’s removed from
    the bench for pandering to the corporate elite!!!

  3. Avatar
    Anonymous Re-Mastered

    But aren’t the digital re-masters treated as if they were new recordings? Isn’t that a loophole that has been used in the recent past?

  4. Avatar
    Ronn Scala

    As an artist and a owner of an internet radio show, I believe that every artist deserves to be paid no matter what year a song was released. I have many friends in the music industry. I have acquired the permission from all the artist or paid for the rights to play their music on my radio show. It’s the right thing to do. Many of the top radio stations make millions of dollars a year running ads while playing music that don’t have the legal rights to play. This must stop.

    • Avatar
      Anonymous

      You are so right! Artists have been getting scraps for most of their careers and this impacts their family life, their marriage, their self esteem, and their freedom of ability to create their gift of music versus what the corporate bosses who only care about the bottom line! My husband,a truly God given talent, had his music career destroyed by greed and money from the record company and his former manager. That affected his personal life and led to his untimely death. I hope the artists win
      this battle. They deserve to.
      They have given our generation such enjoyment and enreached our lives…most of them did it for the love of music…certainly not the money.
      Millions of dollars found their way into everyone’s pocket but the artists!
      When are they gonna’ get the respect and appreciation for what they have given us?
      Let this be a happy ending, please!

      • Avatar
        Mrs. Linda (Dennis) Yost

        I feel like you hit the nail on the head!
        Artists were given such a beautiful gift and shared their gift with all of us! These oldies artists were are such an important part of us Baby Boomers. That music reflected our thought, dreams, and views on sex, government, War, peace, desegregation, women’s rights, love, and everything in between as never before! As a founder of FAME (Friends Against Musical Exploitation of artists) my husband Dennis Yost, Gene Hughes, and Pat Benti were lobbying Congress to make Rock n Roll Oldies music a national treasure so the music and history would be supported and preserved. I still think that it should be since it was such a huge part of US History! Now, if the Congress deals then this last humiliating and degrading “death blow” it will be a sad day….
        The day the music died….again.

    • Avatar
      Mrs. (Dennis)Linda Yost

      You go Ronn! I know you do it for the love of the music and to keep our generations music alive! Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    Frank DeFeo

    THE ORIGINALS AND GROUPS ARE ENTITLED TO THE REWARDS OF THE HARD WORK IN WRITING AND SINGING OR PLAYING THE MUSIC AND THEIR ROYALTIES…..IF THEY DIDN’T MAKE THE HITS…. THE RECORDS…. THE RADIO STATIONS PLAYS WOULD NOT BE THERE AND THEY WOULD NOT IN ANY WAY MAKE MONEY….THEREFORE, THEY SHOULD BE PAID…..

  6. Avatar
    Frank DeFeo

    February 18, 2017

    THE ORIGINALS AND GROUPS ARE ENTITLED TO THE REWARDS OF THE HARD WORK IN WRITING AND SINGING OR PLAYING THE MUSIC AND THEIR ROYALTIES…..IF THEY DIDN’T MAKE THE HITS…. THE RECORDS…. THE RADIO STATIONS PLAYS WOULD NOT BE THERE AND THEY WOULD NOT IN ANY WAY MAKE MONEY….THEREFORE, THEY SHOULD BE PAID…..

  7. Avatar
    Erik Nelson

    I must say this article did not inform me of why 1972 is so important in this case.

  8. Avatar
    smidi

    And this is why you want to be the songwriter. Publishers always get theirs.