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The Turtles Slap SiriusXM With $100 Million Lawsuit

Legal action could stop pre-1972 classic rock and jazz from being played on satellite radio network

August 5, 2013 10:45 AM ET
Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of the Turtles
Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of the Turtles.
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The Turtles are spearheading a major lawsuit against SiriusXM — a $100 million class action that claims the satellite radio giant has infringed on millions of old recordings from a multitude of artists, reports The Hollywood Reporter

In 1972, audio recordings began falling under federal copyright protection, but protection for songs recorded prior to that date is more ambiguous. 

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SiriusXM transmits thousands of pre-1972 songs under the authority of  section 114 of the Copyright Act, which carves out a statute of limitation on exclusive rights. Artist compensation is also arranged under this act and overseen by the Copyright Royalty Board, which sets statutory royalty rates for satellite radio and are collected by Sound Exchange to distribute.

Until 2011, SiriusXM sent Sound Exchange a log of every song that was played along with a lump sum in royalities owed. The problem was that the log didn't include pre-1972 reocrdings, and payment wasn't broken down per song, meaning that royalties were distributed to all artists on Sirius' playlist. Two years ago, Sound Exchange requested that SiriusXM document everything that it was paying for, and SiriusXM has since stopped reporting pre-1972 recordings.

The Turtles are arguing that federal law isn't applicable in regard to pre-1972 music. In addition to millions of dollars in damages, the band is also seeking an injunction against SiriusXM for distributing pre-1972 recordings. 

The Turtles are a famously litigious band, memorably suing De La Soul for $1.7 million over the hip-hop trio's use of their 1968 track "You Showed Me" for "Transmitting Live From Mars." (The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.)

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