A popular internet radio service has the right to stream decades-old recordings without a song owner’s consent, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The court ruled in favor of iHeartMedia, which is being sued by an Illinois couple who own the master recordings of numerous doo-wop, jazz and blues songs. These include tunes by the Flamingos, the Moonglows, T-Bone Walker, Little Walter and Jimmy Reed.
Because the songs were recorded before 1972, they are not subject to federal copyright laws. For this reason, Arthur and Barbara Sheridan filed a federal lawsuit against iHeartMedia and asserted that Georgia law requires the company to pay royalties for using the Sheridans’ songs. It is one of several lawsuits the Sheridans have filed against music streaming services in various states.
A U.S. District judge in Albany, who is presiding over the case, asked the Georgia Supreme Court to determine whether state law requires Texas-based iHeartMedia to pay such fees.
A Georgia law makes it illegal to air recordings without an owner’s consent, but that same statute provides an exemption for “both radio broadcast transmissions and related uses.” Because iHeartMedia’s internet programs are “nearly identical” to traditional AM/FM radio station broadcasts, they fall under the exemption and the songs can be aired without the owner’s consent, said Justice Harold Melton, writing for a unanimous court.