Apple, Google, Sony Sued Over Use of Pre-1972 Music

Companies accused of illegally streaming songs due to loophole in federal law.

A proposed class action suit could have a domino effect in what kind of music is available on the Internet. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Apple’s Beats Music, Google, Sony and four other companies are accused of “unauthorized reproduction and distribution” of select songs prior to 1972.

The seven lawsuits filed separately in a Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday (Jan. 22) by Zenbu Magazines involve recordings from rock bands The Flying Burrito Brothers, Hot Tuna and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Zenbu claims to own rights to music illegally distributed through streaming platforms such as Sony’s Music Unlimited. The service, which runs $4.99 per month, allows subscribers to stream everything from current hits to classics from the likes of The Supremes and James Brown.

A judge has not yet approved the separate suits for class action status.

Zenbu is seeking punitive damages, a return of money acquired through the streaming services, and a restraining order preventing companies from streaming pre-1972 music without proper licensing. 

Congress amended a law in the 1970s granting federal protection to recordings made after Feb. 15, 1972, leaving music prior to that date in limbo. The loophole has allowed streaming companies to maneuver without much legal issue, until recently. 

In 2013, The Turtles won a $100 million suit against Sirius XM over recordings from the unprotected time period. The rock band argued protection under the state law. 

Zenbu’s litigation could bring about similar suits for music prior to 1972, including those in the soul music and R&B genres.   

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(Photo: Detroit Free Press/MCT /Landov)

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