Members of the 1960s rock band The Turtles will get their day in court against Sirius XM on Tuesday. They seek to wrest up to $100 million from the satellite-radio giant for infringing their copyrights.
The case will send a strong signal as to the value of state-level copyrights. The US copyright system didn’t grant copyrights on sound recordings until 1972. Some states, however, have offered their own, more generous copyrights, which allow creators to get royalties paid for pre-1972 works.
Now The Turtles will be putting those state copyrights to the test in a class-action case they’re leading in Los Angeles. The case was filed in 2013, and the Turtles said at that time they would seek at least $100 million in damages.
Terrestrial radio doesn’t have to pay sound royalties for the songs it plays, an exemption that has long rankled artists and recording labels. But no such exception exists for satellite radio or online streaming services like Pandora.
After The Turtles filed suit, the RIAA sued both Sirius and Pandora over pre-1972 copyrights, winning a $210 million settlement from Sirius and $90 million from Pandora. But those settlements didn’t resolve The Turtles’ case.
The Turtles’ hits include “Happy Together,” “She’d Rather Be with Me,” and their cover of the Bob Dylan tune “It Ain’t Me Babe.” After the band’s breakup in 1970, some of its members went on to become the musical comedy duo Flo and Eddie.
Flo and Eddie are no strangers to asserting their rights in court. Billboard notes that the musical duo has brought lawsuits against music pirates and filed one of the first “sampling” lawsuits against the hip-hop trio De La Soul. That case was settled on confidential terms.
Sirius XM will be defended by Los Angeles litigator Daniel Petrocelli, who isn’t happy about the timing of the case. That’s because Petrocelli has another client with an upcoming high-profile trial: Donald Trump. The Sirius XM trial is starting tomorrow in Los Angeles, while a class-action fraud trial against now-defunct Trump University is scheduled to begin November 28.
Petrocelli asked judges in each case to delay trial but was rejected by both. However, the National Law Journal reported today that Petrocelli has made one last attempt, asking US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel to delay Trump’s testimony until January, when most of the president-elect’s transition work to the White House will be done.