Major artistes look to reclaim recordings and songs: Springsteen and others soon eligible to “recover song rights”

September 2011

Artistes, record labels

An interesting article in the New York Times notes that since their release in 1978, hit albums like Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Billy Joel’s “52nd Street,” the Doobie Brothers’ “Minute by Minute,” Kenny Rogers’s “Gambler” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” have generated tens of millions of dollars for record companies. But thanks to a little-noted provision in United States copyright law, those artists — and thousands more — now have the right to reclaim ownership of their recordings, potentially leaving the labels and music publishers out in the cold.  Other artistes currently looking to regain rights include Bryan Adams, Bob Dylans, Tom Waites, Kris Kristofferson, Kool & The Gang and Fleetwood Mac.

When copyright law was revised in the mid-1970s, musicians, like creators of other works of art, were granted “termination rights,” which allow them to regain control of their work after 35 years, so long as they apply at least two years in advance. Recordings from 1978 are the first to fall under the law, but in a matter of months, hits from 1979, like “The Long Run” by the Eagles and “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer, will be in the same situation — and then, as the calendar advances, every other master recording once it reaches the 35-year mark.

A second article notes that Victor Willis, frontman and songwriter with the Village People (he was the naval officer!) is seeking to regain control of over thirty of the band’s hits including Y.M.C.A, from two music publishing companies who are contesting the move.

The Recording Industry Association of America have issued a statement saying with General Counsel Stephen Marks saying “We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings.” The labels are preparing to argue that the albums they released were “works for hire,” that musicians were effectively employees and the fruits of their labors always belonged to the companies saying We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” said Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America, a lobbying group in Washington that represents the interests of record labels. As the record companies see it, the master recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are “works for hire,” compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees.

Read the whole article here:

And more on YMCA here (A Village Person Tests The Copyright Law) and see  and see

Arguing that Congress has an obligation “to preserve fairness and justice for artists,” the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee has called for a revision of U.S. copyright law to remove ambiguities in the current statute about who is eligible to reclaim ownership rights to songs and sound recordings.
“For too long the work of musicians has been used to create enormous profits for record labels, radio stations and others, without fairly distributing these profits to the artists,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who was chairman of the committee until January. Because “copyrights are a tool to be used by creators to earn a living from their work,” he added, it is important to ensure “a fair marketplace.”
When copyright law was revised in 1976, recording artists and songwriters were granted “termination rights,” which enable them to regain control of their work after 35 years. But with musicians and songwriters now moving to assert that control, the provision threatens to leave the four major record companies, which have made billions of dollars from such recordings and songs, out in the cold.

And some detailed advice to artistes on issues in termination (primarily whether a work is a ‘work for hire’ and issues with joint authors) and on how to terminate here As the article author and entertainment attorney Steve Gordon writes “Just remember: your label doesn’t want you reading this!”

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