When an AM/FM radio station plays a song over the air, it does not pay public performance royalties to the owner of the original sound recording. Digital and satellite radio providers like Sirius, however, must pay public performance royalties whenever they broadcast post-1972 music. Before a 2018 amendment to the copyright law, 17 U.S.C. 1401(b), they did not have to pay royalties for playing pre-1972 music under federal law. State law was less clear.
The district court held that California law, which grants copyright owners an “exclusive ownership” to the music, creates a right of public performance for owners of pre-1972 sound recordings and that Sirius must pay for playing pre-1972 music. The Ninth Circuit reversed, looking to the common law in the 19th century when California first used the phrase “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute. At that time, no state had recognized a right of public performance for music, and California protected only unpublished works. Nothing suggests that California upended this deeply-rooted common-law understanding of copyright protection when it used the word “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute in 1872, so “exclusive ownership” does not include the right of public performance. View “Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc.” on Justia Law