Unhappy Together: Music royalty lawsuit hits Florida Supreme Court

Published: Apr. 6, 2017 at 6:23 PM EDT
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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service

April 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Sirius XM and other digital streaming services charge a fee to listen, but should they be required to pay artists who recorded music before 1972? That’s the question that was before the Florida Supreme Court today, brought by former members of the band 'The Turtles.'

The 1967 performance of the song 'Happy Together' by the Turtles has garnered over six and a half million views on YouTube. Not a dime has gone to the artists.

Now, two of the founding band members, know as Flo and Eddie, are suing Sirius XM for not paying a royalty every time they play one of The Turtles' songs.

“This is simply high tech piracy. The fact that's now copied in bits, there’s no license for that.” said Henry Gradstein, Flo and Eddie's attorney.

Sirius told the state's high court that since the recording was made before current federal copyright laws, the mere purchase of a record entitled them to play it for others for free.

Sirius XM attorney, John Hacker, said, "When this state said by statute, when you sell a record, you’re giving up all your rights.”

The suit was originally filed in federal court, the state was asked to sort out what common law had to say about ownership.

At one point during the argument, the court asked, 'Do people even know what these are today?'”

Another justice questioned whether the law has kept up with these digital times.

“That audio can be used for profit, just as though it were copied. Just as though that record were reproduced,” said Justice Fred Lewis.

Afterwards, both attorneys rushed to catch a plane.

“Everyone who has a financial stake, except of the composers, in the record is not getting paid," said Gradstein.

Hanging in the balance could be tens of millions of dollars due to virtually every artist who recorded before 1972.

Several justices were critical of The Turtles' claims, suggesting no court has ever upheld their position.