Streaming music services like Apple’s Beats Music, Google Play, Rdio and others are targets of a new volley of lawsuits claiming unpaid royalties on certain pre-1972 songs, potentially ending access to these older tracks.
The suit being leveled in California District Court by Zenbu Magazines, Inc., current owners of multiple tracks recorded prior to 1972, claims Apple’s Beats Music and other streaming services misappropriated its content and illegally profited by selling subscription services without paying out royalties.
Along with Beats, Zenbu has filed identical suits against Sony, Google, Grooveshark, Rdio, Songz and Slacker citing the same issues, seeking class certification in each case. The suits were filed on Thursday and later reported by GigaOm.
According to plaintiffs’ lead attorney Jack Fitzgerald, the streaming services copied and uploaded to their servers “tens of thousands” of songs recorded prior to Feb. 15, 1972 — the cutoff date for sound recordings to be afforded copyright protection under federal law — for distribution to paying customers. In Beats’ case, the 1969 song “Sin City” by The Flying Burrito Brothers was cited as an example.
It is unclear if Zenbu’s catalog is popular with on-demand customers and the papers do not detail potential licensing estimates, but if Apple and others determine the cost of keeping the content online does not warrant royalties, the songs may be taken out of rotation altogether. Such a decision could have repercussions on other pre-1972 songs, as seen in separate cases successfully leveraged against digital radio station SiriusXM.