NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge in California allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed on Wednesday against satellite-radio company Sirius XM Holdings Inc over the payment of royalties for songs produced before 1972, in a case that is being closely watched for its implications for digital media.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez marks another win for members of the 1960s band the Turtles, known for the hit “Happy Together,” and means the company could face claims from a broader group of artists.
“Sirius XM treats every single owner of a pre-1972 song the same, namely it doesn’t pay them, so it was appropriate for this court to grant class certification,” said Henry Gradstein, attorney for Flo & Eddie Inc, a company controlled by founding Turtles members Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman.
Sirius XM declined comment.
Gutierrez ruled last September that, under California state law, New York-based Sirius XM was liable for copyright infringement by airing the band’s pre-1972 songs without paying royalties.
Flo & Eddie also sought to certify a class action against the company to bring in other artists in a similar situation. Sirius XM argued against certification because it said damages would be difficult to calculate accurately for different members of the class.
Gutierrez rejected that argument on Wednesday, saying “a class action is superior to individual litigation to the fair and efficient adjudication of the present controversy.”
The lawsuit is one of a handful challenging Sirius and Pandora Media Inc over their playing of songs recorded before Feb. 15, 1972. Although such songs are not covered by federal copyright law, some recording artists and labels have won rulings entitling them to copyright protection under individual state laws.
The prominence of online and satellite music services has risen in recent years, with artists and labels increasingly dependent on them to make money as record sales have fallen industry wide.
Flo & Eddie has filed lawsuits in California, New York and Florida seeking more than $100 million for Sirius’ alleged infringements.
Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Alan Crosby and Andre Grenon