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Owners of ‘Happy Together’ lose copyright case

Radio stations don’t have to get permission — or pay compensation — to the owners of old music recordings in order to play the recordings, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday in an ongoing legal dispute between Sirius XM Radio and the owners of The Turtle’s 1967 hit “Happy Together.”

The Court of Appeals determined that New York common law does not recognize a “public performance right” that would enable the owners of old records to require radio stations to seek permission or render payment before playing the music. At issue in the case are recordings made before 1972, when new federal copyright laws went into effect.

Flo & Eddie Inc., a company owned by two of The Turtles’ founding members, sued Sirius in federal court for copyright infringement, arguing that its rights were violated when Sirius plays The Turtles’ pre-1972 songs without permission or compensation. Because the suit involved questions about state law, it spawned legal contests in New York, as well as in Florida and California.

According to the New York decision, written by Judge Leslie Stein, there is no state law establishing such a right. Stein also noted that record companies and artists have long “had a symbiotic relationship with radio stations, and wanted them to play their records to encourage name recognition and corresponding album sales.”

Daniel Petrocelli, the attorney for Sirius, said the lawsuit “was simply an effort by record companies to extract more money, beyond what they receive when people buy or download their music.”

Tuesday’s decision resolves one piece of the much larger legal dispute over the rights of record owners. An attorney for Flo & Eddie Inc. said he is hopeful the suit will ultimately prevail.

“The good fight to protect artist’s rights rages on,” said attorney Henry Gradstein in a statement.