The United States didn’t protect copyrights for sound recordings until 2/15/72. Thanks to that legal loophole, Pandora has never paid royalties on music recorded before 1972, claiming that it was all part of the public domain. The policy that has drawn criticism from Buddy Holly’s estate among others, and now it’s changing. The Recording Industry Association of America sued Pandora over the non-payments last year shortly after Flo and Eddie from the Turtles filed a similar suit, and as Rolling Stone reports, the RIAA and Pandora have come to a settlement. Pandora agreed to dole out $90 million in back payments to labels including Warner, Sony, and Universal. A statement from Pandora CEO Brian McAndrews:
Pandora is excited to have found resolution with these record labels. Together we share a common objective to grow the music industry and support artists. We pursued this settlement in order to move the conversation forward and continue to foster a better, collaborative relationship with the labels.
SiriusXM agreed to pay the labels $210 million after a similar lawsuit in 2013. Pandora has yet to officially license its pre-1972 catalog, but under the new agreement, they can continue playing those songs this year while negotiating a new deal.