Legal

Music labels sue Pandora over pre-1972 recordings

Five music labels have filed a lawsuit against streaming music service Pandora Music, saying the company is violating state law by refusing to pay labels and artists for its use of recordings made before 1972.

U.S. copyright law doesn’t cover recordings made before 1972, but the five music labels—Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Warner Music Group and ABKCO Music & Records—argue that Pandora’s use is a violation of New York state law.

The actions by Pandora and other music services have cost the labels tens of millions of dollars a year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The pre-1972 recordings are played on some of the most popular stations on Pandora, including ‘50s Rock ‘n’ Roll, ‘60s Oldies, Motown, Doo-Wop and Classic Soul, the RIAA said.

The songs include some of the “most iconic music in the world,” the labels said in their complaint, filed in New York state court in Manhattan. They include works by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Monkees and The Who.

Pandora, in a recent regulatory filing, noted that “the time, effort, and cost of securing such licenses could be significant and could harm our business and operating results,” lawyers for the labels wrote.

Pandora said it was reviewing the lawsuit. “Pandora is confident in its legal position and looks forward to a quick resolution of this matter,” it said.

RIAA members filed a similar lawsuit in California against SiriusXM last September.

Recordings made before Feb. 15, 1972, aren’t covered by U.S. copyright law, but they are covered by state law. Sound recordings were first given federal copyright protection in 1972. The “scope of protection and of exceptions and limitations to that protection is unclear,” the U.S. Copyright Office said in a December 2011 report on sound-recording copyright issues.

Artists Steve Cropper, Sam Moore, Dionne Warwick and Maria Elena Holly, the widow of Buddy Holly, spoke in favor of the lawsuit in an RIAA press release.

Updated on April 18 with a comment from Pandora.

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