The Beatles. The Rolling Stones’ classic hits. Motown. Stax. Doo-wop. “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Jimi Hendix. The Doors. Guess what? Sirius XM satellite radio doesn’t pay any royalties on this music. They refuse, claiming they don’t have to. I didn’t know that, but now I do. And now you do. The satellite radio home of Howard Stern claims it’s protected under a federal statutory license.
Yesterday, SoundExchange, which collects digital royalties the way BMI and ASCAP do for everything else, sued SiriusXM in U.S. District court in Washington DC. They claim that Sirius XM simply pretends for tax purposes and anything else that all the years of rock and roll before 1971 don’t exist. Sound Exchange claims that Sirius XM doesn’t include the money they make from that music in their “Gross revenues.”
(The cut off is actually February 15, 1972 and is referred to in the lawsuit as “pre-1972.” Those last six weeks include a lot of famous releases, coincidentally, including Neil Young’s “Harvest,” Allman Bros.’s “Eat a Peach,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be There.”)
The lawsuit is basically claiming that subscribers who pay to listen to Sirius for their 50s and 60s music, for oldies stations and for Soul Town, my favorite station, aren’t counted. Don’t forget, SiriusXM unlike your normal radio station, knows what you’re listening to because they are digital. They know you’re not listening to polka music. Or if you are. They know I am always on Soul Town and not on Heavy Metal.
SoundExchange is asking for $50 to $100 million in back royalties from 2007 to 2012.
“Getting paid by Sirius would be life changing money for the pre-72 legacy artists,” said Heather Sauber, Director of The Soul Arts and Music Foundation, Inc. that’s been organized with the goal of helping the legacy American recordings artists recover their rights and property.
And legacy artists don’t mean just the big stars as I mentioned above but little guys with one off hits that are played on SiriusXM around the clock, from “96 Tears” to “Sweet Soul Music” to “Spirit in the Sky” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
It also means all of the classic recordings by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Fitzgerald all the big band and jazz music.