Most people know the song, “Happy Together,” by The Turtles. What they might not know is that the 1967 recording is at the center of an ongoing legal battle over whether satellite and terrestrial radio outlets have to pay to use music made before 1972.
This week, a New York District Court judge overruled a lower court decision, and now radio stations and the Sirius satellite radio company are once again free to use pre-1972 music without paying the artists or labels.
Eriq Gardner, a senior editor at the Hollywood Reporter, joined us to discuss the case and its implications. He says:
The judges ruled that, under New York law, radio stations don't have to pay for pre-1972 sound recordings. That was the year when Congress decided to put sound recordings under a federal copyright. In terms of analyzing what New York law says, there's no performance rights.
Not even The Rolling Stones or The Beatles get paid for radio play of songs written before 1972. According to Gardner, it used to be that there was an unspoken agreement between radio broadcasters and record labels by which stations could play whatever they wanted because it was essentially free promotion for records. But now that record sales are going down, the artists are speaking up.
In shifting times, a lot of artists say, Hey, it's unfair. We need to change compensation. They want to be given money any time a song is performed, whether that's streamed or whether that's played on radio.
There are similar lawsuits in California and in Florida, so it remains to be seen how other state courts will rule.