Sirius XM wins a US court ruling over pre-1972 songs

By Jonathan Stempel

June 22 (Reuters) - Sirius XM Radio Inc won a victory in its legal battle to limit how much it spends to play music, as a federal judge said Florida law does not require the satellite radio company to pay royalties on songs made before 1972.

Monday's decision by U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles in Miami breaks from rulings by federal judges in New York and Los Angeles against Sirius in related litigation by members of The Turtles, the 1960s band known for the song "Happy Together."

Gayles said Florida law does not entitle artists like Flo & Eddie Inc, controlled by founding Turtles members Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, to damages for copyright infringement when services such as Sirius play their songs without permission.

"If the court adopts Flo & Eddie's position, it would be creating a new property right in Florida as opposed to interpreting the law," Gayles wrote. "The court declines."

Monday's decision is a rare victory for Sirius against the Turtles, who also sued in California and New York under those states' laws and sought $100 million of damages.

Patrick Reilly, a spokesman for New York-based Sirius, declined to comment. Harvey Geller, a lawyer for Flo & Eddie, did not immediately respond to a similar request.

The Internet radio service Pandora Media Inc has also been sued over playing songs recorded before Feb. 15, 1972.

Federal copyright law does not cover such songs, but some judges have found that individual state laws entitle artists and labels to copyright protection. Recording industry groups have also pressured Congress to pass royalty laws covering older songs.

On May 27, U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez in Los Angeles certified a class action against Sirius on behalf of Flo & Eddie and other artists, after ruling last September that they could pursue claims under California law.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan ruled in November that Flo & Eddie could seek damages under New York law.

In his decision, Gayles said it "makes sense" that California and New York, being "the creative centers of the nation's art world," would have statutes and well-developed case law on the rights of artists. "Florida is different," he said.

The case is Flo & Eddie Inc v. Sirius XM Radio Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 13-23182.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)