(CN) – Three radio companies have made millions of dollars by not paying for their use of “pre-1972” songs that are not protected by federal copyright law, a class claims.
ABS Entertainment lobbed the claims Monday in three similar federal class actions it filed in Los Angeles. The company sued CBS Corporation and CBS Radio Inc., iHeartMedia Inc. and subsidiaries, and Cumulus Media Inc. and Cumulus Broadcasting LLC. All three suits allege misappropriation and conversion. The case against CBS was the Top Download for Courthouse News on Wednesday and Thursday.
Each lawsuit accuses the companies of unlawfully delivering music content through radio, the Internet and mobile devices without licenses or consent from ABS and other copyright owners for songs recorded before Feb. 15, 1972. Sound recordings made after that date are subject to protection under the U.S. Copyright Act.
“Pre-1972 recordings comprise the historical backbone of the music industry. From Tin Pan Alley to the Big Band era to the Summer of Love, those recordings have defined generations and include the recordings of legendary artists such as Al Green, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, The Turtles and The Beatles,” the complaints state. “[CBS, iHeart and Cumulus understand] the value of pre-1972 recordings to its music service but has ignored the obligation to obtain licenses to exploit those recordings.”
CBS and its subsidiaries own 117 radio stations in 77 percent of the top 25 markets, the complaint claims. It also streams its radio stations online, including on mobile devices. Cumulus owns about 460 radio stations in 90 U.S. markets, including eight of the top 10, according to the lawsuit.
iHeartMedia reportedly runs 858 stations in 44 of the top 50 markets and is known for its iHeartRadio streaming service. Its app has been downloaded about 500 million times, according to the complaint.
The media companies copied tens of thousands of pre-1972 recordings to their servers to broadcast them to millions of listeners without permission, the lawsuit claims.
ABS says it owns the recordings of Al Green and other artists, including Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Willie Mitchell.
ABS claims violation of California state law governing pre-Copyright Act recordings. The proposed class includes all owners of music recordings that were “fixed,” or recorded, before Feb. 15, 1972 and whose recordings were distributed without permission in California
The California statute reads, in relevant part: “The author of an original work of authorship consisting of a sound recording initially fixed prior to February 15, 1972, has an exclusive ownership therein until February 15, 2047.”
The lawsuits claim the class has been damaged in excess of $5 million. ABS and the class seek at least that much, plus punitive damages and an injunction preventing misappropriation of the pre-1972 recordings. The class is represented by Robert Allen of McKool Smith Hennigan P.C. in Los Angeles.
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