Apple, Sony, Google Named in Lawsuits for Playing Pre-1972 Music

The owner of music by the Flying Burrito Brothers and Hot Tuna claims that the major streaming services are breaking the law

The Flying Burrito Brothers are among the artists that Zenbu Magazines claims the major music streaming services are offering illegally. Credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty

UPDATE: Zenbu's lawsuit against Rdio has been dismissed. "We're pleased the lawsuit was dismissed," a spokesperson for the company said. "Rdio respects copyright and is committed to compensating artists for their creative works and pays royalties for all songs we offer."

The owner of recordings by the Flying Burrito Brothers, Hot Tuna and New Riders of the Purple Sage has filed seven lawsuits against the major streaming companies, alleging they are playing music that was released before 1972 illegally. Among the defendants are Apple's Beats, Sony, Google, Rdio, Songza, Slacker and the company that operates Grooveshark, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The recordings' owner, Zenbu Magazines, is seeking the money the companies made from distributing the music, punitive damages and a restraining order that would keep the companies from continuing to offer its music without a license, among other judgments. None of the lawsuits, which Zenbu's lawyer, Jack Fitzgerald, filed separately against each company, have been certified for class-action status.

The lawsuit against Sony, which THR is hosting as a PDF, calls the companies' distribution of music through PlayStation "immoral, unethical, unscrupulous or substantially injurious." Sony offers music through its Music Unlimited service, for which it charges $4.99 per month. According to the lawsuit, it offers several albums by Zenbu's artists. The company is seeking a trial by jury.

In the Seventies, Congress amended a law that federally protected the rights of sound recordings made after February 15th, 1972. After the law was passed, terrestrial radio stations, restaurants and bars have been playing music before that date without much legal issue.

But in 2013, Sixties rockers the Turtles filed a $100 million lawsuit against SiriusXM, claiming that the rights to their music were protected on the state level. Last October, a California judge ruled in their favor. The "Happy Together" artists have since filed a similar class-action suit against Pandora for $25 million.

Pandora and SiriusXM provided the lion's share of performance royalties —$656 million in 2013, according to The New York Times — that SoundExchange, the company that processes royalties for artists, collects.