Get Ready For Classic Songs Of The 50s & 60s To Disappear From Internet Streaming Thanks To Copyright Lawsuits
from the bye-bye-1960s-classics dept
With the 1976 Copyright Act, rather than "federalizing" all sound recording copyrights, Congress basically left all pre-1972 recordings under those state laws, while effectively wiping out those laws for everything else. Since then, all copyright is under federal copyright law, but old sound recordings are still subject to those state laws. But those state laws were somewhat limited -- and at no point did anyone seriously believe that there was any sort of public performance licensing required for those recordings. Well, not until a few years ago, when some big record labels started searching under the couch cushions for other ways to squeeze money out of online services. They'd already convinced Congress to force internet streaming sites to pay compulsory performance royalties (at insanely high rates), even though radio doesn't have to pay those.
But that wasn't enough. So, they started to focus on those pre-1972 recordings and said that while those aren't subject to the compulsory rates, perhaps they could hold them hostage and force the streaming sites to pay insane amounts for them. The streaming sites, rightfully, pointed out that none of those state laws really had a public performance right as a part of it, and thus there was no licensing required to perform those works and... eventually the lawsuits began.
Late last year, there was a series of separate but similar rulings in courts in California and New York that more or less upturned decades of copyright consensus about what rights were afforded to pre-1972 recordings.
And now additional lawsuits are starting to show up -- and you can expect a lot more of them. A holding company called Zenbu Magazines has sued Apple's Beats Music along with Google, Songza, Slacker, Rdio, Sony and Grooveshark using the same basic template as those earlier lawsuits. Zenbu claims to hold the copyrights for recordings by the Flying Burrito Brothers, Hot Tuna and New Riders of the Purple Sage. And it wants to get paid. Big time.
In fact, Zenbu is looking to make this a class action lawsuit, meaning that the holders of lots of other copyrights on pre-1972 recordings may pile on as well -- and the potential liability facing all of these streaming services could quickly grow to astronomical numbers.
Given that, it seems quite likely that at least some, if not all, of these services are going to quickly realize that their best move is to simply remove all pre-1972 recordings from their catalog. History for music may end in 1972 thanks to these self-defeating lawsuits from copyright holders desperate to squeeze extra money out of these services. It's hard to see how that benefits culture in the slightest.