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“Turtles” Case Making Waves Across Music Industry

November 05, 2014

​Laurence Pulgram, Fenwick & West partner and chair of the commercial and copyright litigation groups, was quoted by the Daily Journal in an article about a recent series of lawsuits that have reignited debate over copyrights in performances of music recordings.

The disputes stem from the fact that sound recordings before 1972 aren’t covered under federal copyright and are covered under state laws instead. Some copyright owners of records made before 1972 seek royalties under these state statutes.

The federal court decision that grabbed headlines resulted from a suit against Sirius XM Radio Inc., brought before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by Flo & Eddie, members of the 1960s band The Turtles. Rejecting Sirius XM's argument that pre-1972 sound recordings are not subject to royalty obligations, Judge Philip A. Gutierrez ruled that the satellite broadcaster violated a 1982 California copyright statute and would have to pay royalties for broadcasting the group's music.

The Daily Journal sought Pulgram's view of Judge Gutierrez's decision, given its potentially wide-ranging implications.

"The ruling essentially says that no [pre-1972] songs can be performed publicly, even for traditional radio or bars," without royalty payments, Pulgram said. "The Legislature could not have possibly meant this."​​