The Turtles and the Florida Supreme Court Are Not Happy Together
According to a unanimous decision by the Florida Supreme Court, anything recorded before the year 1972 is in the public domain and can be used freely within the state of Florida.
This strikes a serious blow against members of the oldies rock band, The Turtles. Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, aka ‘Flo & Eddie,’ have been arguing in court for payments on their pre-1972 songs for years.
Seeking pre-1972 royalties is a new and rising issue because satellite radio and internet streaming services have become so popular in recent years. Unlike traditional broadcast radio stations which can play music without any fees, satellite and internet music companies have to pay performance royalties each time certain songs are played.
Prior to 1972, artists and labels were required to follow state laws to determine the outcome of copyright suits. Since that point, Congress has continued to leave pre-1972 copyright decisions to the states. Copyright protection for recordings didn’t exist in Florida at that time.
Kaylan and Volman accused SiriusXM of infringing on their copyright by making “unauthorized public performances” of the duo’s hits, including their most well known song, ‘Happy Together’.
This suit does not apply to the compositions themselves. Broader copyrights have long applied to the actual publishing of a song, which is comprised of the underlying notes and lyrics. The recorded version of that composition was not protected until February 15th, 1972.
In 2013, Kaylan and Volman brought suit and the major labels soon followed. In a 2016 settlement, SiriusXM agreed to pay up to $99 million to a group of indie labels and $210 million to the major studios.
A previous decision by the courts stated that Florida law does not address pre-1972 sound recordings. Appealing that decision, Volman and Kaylan were sent to the state’s supreme court, hoping that common law would officially recognize sound recordings as property. Justice Charles Canady wrote that State Law “has never previously recognized an exclusive right of public performance for sound recordings”, upholding that earlier ruling.
Although Florida’s decision doesn’t directly affect Volman and Kaylan’s cases in New York or California, it may be an indication that copyright protection for older recordings is unlikely.