“The Turtles Finally Get Royalties, But Will It Hasten Their Extinction?”
“If I should call you up, invest a dime/
And you say you belong to me and ease my mind/
Imagine how the world could be, so very fine/
So happy together.”
Fifty years ago, rock stations were only just beginning to migrate from AM to FM radio and space orbits were only for elite astronauts aspiring to be the first on the moon. So when The Turtles went No. 1 with their enduring hit “Happy Together,” neither the band members nor the U.S. Congress imagined how the world could be, how a day would soon come when songs could be beamed from space or streamed across a global network to billions of car radios, personal computers and mobile hand devices. When this day did come, the band members sought to generate royalties from music, which they lament have been unfairly relegated to copyright purgatory.
Recorded in 1967, “Happy Together” would later be categorized by the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act as a “pre-1972” work over which state law applies (at least until 2067). This characterization left the question of what rights, if any, attached to pre-1972 sound recordings for each individual state to decide. In 1995, Congress created a right for sound recordings to be publicly performed through digital audio transmission (given concern that digital technology would diminish physical sales), but this legislation did not apply to pre-1972 works because it only covered federal (not state) copyrights.