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SiriusXM Settles Turtles’ Copyright Lawsuit for $99 Million

SiriusXM will pay up to $99 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by the Turtles after the satellite radio company went years broadcasting songs recorded before 1972 without compensating labels or artists, The New York Times reports.

The suit centers around a 1972 copyright law, which offered federal protection to new audio recordings but was unclear about what to do with songs recorded prior to that year. In 2013, the Turtles filed three class action suits claiming protection under state copyright laws in California, Florida and New York. The major record labels – Sony, Universal and Warner – filed their own suit not long after.

Since 2013, the courts have continually ruled in favor of the recording industry. In October 2014, judge Mary Strobel ruled that while the federal copyright law did not protect pre-1972 songs, SiriusXM could not continue to play those tracks without properly getting licenses from all parties involved. Strobel wrote that California law "must be interpreted to recognize exclusive ownership rights as encompassing public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings."

Last year, Sirius XM agreed to pay $210 million to independent and major labels, while the new $99 million settlement settles the Turtles' class action filed in California. The deal requires SiriusXM to pay a minimum of $25 million for its past unlicensed use of pre-1972 recordings, with the possibility of paying an addition $15 million depending on whether the band wins its appeals in New York and Florida. SiriusXM also agreed to a 10-year license for recordings by members of the class at a 5.5 percent royalty rate that could be worth between $45 and $59 million. These payments, however, apply only to pre-1972 recordings that aren't owned by the major record companies.

Despite the settlements, elements of the copyright law remain unclear, such as whether state laws allow the owners of pre-1972 songs to control performing rights for those recordings.

Along with the class action suits against SiriusXM, both the Turtles and the Recording Industry Association of America – which represents the major labels – filed similar lawsuits against Pandora. In 2015, the internet radio service settled with the RIAA for $90 million, while the Turtles' case is still pending. 

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