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California ruling paves way for class action copyright suit

The increasing popularity of online media streaming services and digital radio has led to a sharp decline in record sales across the country, and artists and music labels now rely more heavily on the royalties paid to them by satellite radio and internet companies. However, some of these companies pay no royalties for music they play that was recorded before Feb. 15, 1972. California law protects the work produced by artists before this date, but federal law provides no such protection.

The New York-based satellite radio company Sirius XM was sued in California by members of the 1960s rock band the Turtles for infringing the copyrights of songs they recorded before 1972, and a judge ruled in their favor in September 2014. The plaintiffs continued their legal battle, and they won another significant victory on May 27 when a judge ruled that the case warranted class action certification. The ruling opens the door for other artists to join the legal action, and industry and legal observers say that the litigation could influence the way that music is delivered in the future.

The U.S. District Court judge presiding over the case dismissed arguments made by Sirius XM that objected to a class action because it would be difficult to calculate damages for the various members of the class. The former Turtles members are seeking over $100 million in damages in lawsuits filed in California, Florida and New York.

The damages awarded in intellectual property cases can be high, but pursuing this kind of litigation is often costly. An attorney with experience in these types of business disputes may assess the merits of claims stemming from copyright, trademark and patent infringement to determine if a lawsuit is warranted. An attorney could also offer strategies to resolve such matters in a way that avoids the the cost and uncertainty of a court action.

Source: Reuters, "Sirius XM to face class action in Turtles copyright suit", Andrew Chung, May 27, 2015

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