Artists, streaming services in continuous tug-of-war

By Managing Editor

Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan—aka Flo & Eddie—of The Turtles, a popular 1960s band, are now fighting for proper compensation for the use of their music by streaming and radio services like Pandora. 

Most known for songs “Happy Together” and “It Ain’t Me Babe,” The Turtles won a lawsuit Sept. 22 against SiriusXM for the uncompensated use of their pre-1972 recordings, according to an Oct. 2 article in The Hollywood Reporter.

Many older bands have had this issue in the last few years since the advent of streaming services like Spotify because sound recordings did not become protected by federal copyright laws until 1972, meaning any music recorded before then is not protected by state law at all.

Although Pandora claims it pays  on royalties in all cases, including such pre-1972 recordings, those payments go toward the songwriters, who are sometimes different people than the performers.

Not only do the performers often miss out on proper compensation in these cases, but when songwriters are paid royalties, that money is also distributed to collection agencies, record labels and other behind-the-scenes players that most listeners are not aware of. So even when the original artists and performers do get paid for the use of their music, it is not much at all. 

According to the Oct. 2 article from The Hollywood Reporter, Pandora has argued thus far that its use of all music—including recordings that date pre-1972—is helpful to sustaining the longevity of artists’ success and relevance.

While that may be true, it does not mean those artists and performers should go without pay simply because they have gotten the benefit of some additional airplay.  

Pandora said it would support “the full federalization of pre-1972 sound recordings under a technology-neutral approach that affords libraries, music services and consumers the same rights and responsibilities that are enjoyed with respect to all other sound recordings,” according to the Oct. 2 article.

With both new and old musicians receiving so little compensation in royalties—if they receive the correct payment at all—there is no reason that bands that are still in existence and performers of music released pre-1972 should not be guaranteed that their music is treated with the same respect as more recent music under copyright laws. 

While some may fear that the success of The Turtles’ lawsuit against SiriusXM and their upcoming confrontation with Pandora might threaten the ways in which radio and streaming services currently function, those fears pale in comparison to the offensive dollar amounts that artists are constantly losing out on. 

If radio and streaming services cannot continue to succeed without cheating artists out of money, then they should already be reevaluating their processes and finding better ways to be efficient.

Flo & Eddie claim that they are owed at least $100 million from SiriusXM and at least $25 million from Pandora, as well as further compensation from other undisclosed services, according to the Oct. 2 article.

If those numbers are correct, the full federalization of copyright protections of pre-1972 recordings is heinously overdue.