Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-05784 (S.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 14, 2014) [Doc. 88].
Joining a California federal court in a parallel case, a New York federal court found that Flo & Eddie (the Turtles) have state common law claims against Sirius XM concerning the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings. "In short, general principles of common law copyright dictate that public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings do exist. New York has always protected public performance rights in works other than sound recordings that enjoy the protection of common law copyright. Sirius suggests no reason why New York -- a state traditionally protective of performers and performance rights -- would treat sound recordings differently."
First, the court found that plaintiff holds valid common law copyrights in the Turtles' sound recordings. "The Turtles originally acquired a common law copyright in their sound recordings by expending time, effort, money and skill to create them. That copyright was then transferred...eventually to Flo and Eddie, which now owns the sound recordings."
Second, the Court found that Flo and Eddie's common law copyright provides exclusive rights to reproduce and publicly perform Turtles recordings. As to the absence of prior litigation on the matter, "acquiescence by participants in the recording industry in a status quo where recording artists and producers were not paid royalties while songwriters were does not show that they lacked an enforceable right under the common law -- only that they failed to act on it." The court did not read too much into the fact that New York courts have never squarely addressed this particular feature of state copyright law in the context of sound recordings.
Third, the Court found that Sirius infringed plaintiff's common law copyright and engaged in unfair competition (misappropriation). In reproducing Turtles recordings, Sirius acted without authorization. Further, to the extent that distribution is an element of common law copyright, the Court found that publicly performing sound recordings is an act of distribution.
Moreover, even though the Court found that there is a common law fair use defense parallel to the federal fair use defense, Sirius XMs creation of multiple complete copies of the sound recordings could not be considered a fair use. "It is a matter of economic commons sense that Sirius harms Flo and Eddie's sales and potential licensing fees (even if the latter market is not yet extant) by publicly performing Turtles sound recordings."
Lastly, the Court rejected Sirius XM's argument that plaintiff's claims are barred by the constitutional Dormant Commerce Clause, which provides that states may not interfere with interstate commerce. U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 8. The court found that the argument is a "red herring" because New York does not "regulate" anything by recognizing common law copyright. Sirius objects to a "general principle respecting the liability of all persons within the jurisdiction of" New York, which under the 1876 (yes, 1876) Supreme Court decision Sherlock v. Alling, 93 U.S. 99, is not a state-imposed regulation that might affect interstate commerce.