James Fahringer


Over the past several years, two former bandmates in the 1960s rock group, The Turtles, have initiated several lawsuits against the popular music streaming services, Pandora and Sirius XM, arguing that the band owns common law copyrights in the sound recordings of its songs, and that these state-level copyrights grant the band an exclusive public performance right in its sound recordings. If accepted, this argument has the potential to significantly distort federal copyright policy because states would not be constrained by any of the balancing features of the Copyright Act, including Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbors for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), statutory licenses under 17 USC § 114, or even the limitations, such as fair use, in §§ 107 through 122.

In spite of how detrimental state-by-state copyright policymaking could be to Congress’s policy choices embodied in the Copyright Act, federal courts have not applied any form of preemption that would prevent states from legislating at will in this area, because § 301(c) appears to contain a disavowal of preemption for any state law dealing with pre-1972 sound recordings. This note advances an interpretation of § 114(a) that would expressly preempt state-level public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings as well as an interpretation of §301(c) that would greatly narrow the scope of the disavowal of preemption, allowing federal courts to strike down state laws that severely distort federal copyright policy.