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Music labels sue SiriusXM over unpaid royalties on oldies

The lawsuit accuses the satellite radio company of not paying royalties for music it plays that was recorded before 1972 when federal protections kicked in.

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Steven Musil
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The Four Tops are just one of the bands seeking unpaid royalties from SiriusXM. CBS

The music industry is turning up the volume in its battle against digital broadcasters with a lawsuit that accuses SiriusXM of not paying royalties on music recorded before 1972.

Major labels Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment, and Universal Music Group Recordings, along with indie label ABKCO, sued the satellite radio company in a California court on Wednesday. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, notes that "a significant portion of SiriusXM's channels feature classic sound recordings, including channels exclusively devoted to performing recordings from the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s."

Before sound recordings came under federal copyright protection in 1972, music copyrights were overseen by the individual states. So instead of being filed in a federal court, the lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in California, a state that had music rights protections in place before Congress extended copyright eligibility to sound recordings.

"Classic tracks recorded before 1972 are an important part of American culture and an important of SiriusXM's programming," Dionne Warwick said in a statement provided by the Recording Industry of America, the organization that represents the music industry's interests. "The great artists played on the '40s, '50s and '60s stations should be treated with respect and properly compensated as SiriusXM is required to do, so I am asking SiriusXM not to 'Walk On By' and do the right thing!"

A SiriusXM representative declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the third filed against SiriusXM in recent weeks. SoundExchange, which collects royalties on behalf of recording artists, filed a lawsuit in August that claimed the satellite radio company "systematically underpaid" royalties from 2007 to 2011. The '60s rock band The Turtles filed a class action lawsuit in early August that seeks $100 million in damages.