The ways in which Florida music fans have listened to the songs they love have been changing rapidly in recent years. Increasing numbers of listeners now use online streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify as their primary source of music. After years of seeing illegal downloads eating into their revenues, many in the entertainment industry are excited about the potential for streaming audio.

Still, this doesn’t mean the battles over music copyrights are over. Recently, the remaining major record labels filed suit against Pandora, claiming that the streaming audio service has not been paying them when users play older songs, including famous works by the Beatles, Elvis Presley and James Brown.

Under the often confusing rules for music in copyright law, sound recordings from before 1972 do not fall under federal copyright protection. The underlying composition of a recording may be protected, and the songwriter may get royalties from these recordings, but the actual recordings are protected under state law, if at all.

But wait, it gets even more convoluted. Royalties for online streaming audio are administered by the performance rights organization SoundExchange. In the Pandora lawsuit and a similar lawsuit filed last year against the satellite radio provider Sirius XM, the record companies claim that SoundExchange has been unable to collect performance royalties for pre-1972 sound recordings when they are played on digital services.

All this legal headache and business posturing seems a long way away from the joy of playing or listening to music, or even from the business of selling a record to a music fan. Those who work in Florida’s entertainment industry need experienced attorneys to protect their intellectual property rights and make sure they are properly remunerated for their work.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Record Labels Sue Pandora Over Pre-1972 Recordings,” Eriq Gardner, April 17, 2014