Major internet music streaming site, Pandora, is being sued by several major record labels. Sony, Universal, and Warner Music are demanding that Pandora owes them money from broadcasting songs that were recorded prior to 1972. Songs that were recorded before Feb. 15, 1972 do not fall under copyright protection because it was not until that date that sound recordings were eligible for federal copyright protection. This is where there seems to be one, of many, gray areas in copyright law. Since sound recordings were not covered by federal copyright, they were protected under state law. This leads to a widespread variety of different rules for different states and so on. The various labels are claiming that Pandora has been able to “…reap where it has not sown”. The labels are also claiming that “Pandora appropriates plaintiffs’ valuable and unique property, violates New York law and engages in common law copyright infringement and misappropriation and unfair competition.” Since Pandora has been playing songs that have been recorded before 1972 since the site first started back in 2004, the labels claim that the site has been doing so without the authors permission.
Sony, Universal, and Warner Music would be seeking royalty charges that they believe Pandora owes to them for using the songs. In order for sites like Pandora or services like Sirius XM to play songs, they must first acquire a license to be able to use the recordings. However, this license is only for recordings before 1972. This case is similar to a case a few years back against Sirius XM Radio. In that case, Dionne Warwick, a representative from the RIA stated that “classic tracks recorded before 1972 are an important part of American culture and an important of Sirius XM’s programming”. It was also stated that “a significant portion of Sirius XM’s channels feature classic sound recordings”. In the case of Pandora, who has an average of 70 million regular users which is double that of what Sirius XM has, most of their channels do not feature classical recordings. The common question between both of these cases, and possibly future cases remains the same; What should be done about the songs that were recorded before 1972? Having a different rules for different states can be confusing and lead to many problems down the road. However as of right now, each state is able to have its own quasi-copyright law surrounding pre-1972 sound recordings. If the court rules in favor of the record labels, then sites like Pandora will have to individually seek permissions to use songs from before 1972. This makes playing pre-1972 songs for Pandora extremely difficult and most likely not worth going through the hassle to play.
I believe that there should be a law set in place, that is constant throughout all of the United States. Also, I believe that the coverage for copyright needs to be shortened. Claiming that tracks recorded before 1972 are an important part of American culture and therefore should be subject to copyright is a bit far off merely because that is one’s own opinion. Why should labels be allowed to bring back songs that are not covered and try to make them retroactive? If this is allowed, this opens up a whole new realm for others to try their luck in court cases to try and make some last ditch money. Let’s remember that the life of copyright is lifetime plus 70 years. That is an awfully long time for a protection to last. There should be a time where labels are no longer allowed to milk every cent from a song that was recorded so long ago. Songs and other works should fall into the public domain after a shorter period than life plus 70. Since after all, the goal of copyright is to encourage the development of culture, science, and innovation while still providing financial benefits to copyright holders. I believe this can still be done just fine with a shorter protection period on copyright.