Typically, Pandora pays a licensing fee every time one of its listeners plays a copyrighted song. The third-party organization SoundExchange tracks this data, and it’s also responsible for collecting those fees and delivering them to copyright holders.
At issue is that songs recorded before 1972 — which includes works from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, and Fleetwood Mac — don’t fall under federal copyright protection. Therefore, SoundExchange isn’t technically collecting fees on that music and Pandora hasn’t paid up, according to the suit filed by Sony, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music.
If the music companies are successful, it could force Pandora to remove pre-1972 songs from the service. Right now the music companies are asking for compensation on licensing fees they feel are owed from Pandora listeners playing those songs, plus compensatory damages, punitive damages, and more.
“This case presents a classic attempt by Pandora to reap where it has not sown,” the music companies state in the court filing. “Pandora appropriates Plaintiffs’ valuable and unique property, violates New York law, and engages in common law copyright infringement and misappropriation and unfair competition.”
This isn’t the only instance where the music industry has gone after a music service for not paying proper licensing fees on the older songs in its library. Sony, Universal, and Warner previously filed a lawsuit against satellite radio service Sirius XM over similar copyright infringement claims. Pandora is often in hot water with music licensing firms like ASCAP.