It’s no secret that young musicians often have zero bargaining power when it comes to negotiating recording contracts. (Congress even knows this which is why they inserted the Copyright Termination provisions into the US Copyright Law). Usually, recording contracts signed by musicians favor the recording companies heavily. (ie recording company forks over $$ and makes an investment in an unknown and not-yet-famous musician… and this is done on the recording company’s terms.)
If and when the musician becomes famous (for example: Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, Loretta Lynn, Tom Waits, Charlie Daniels and Victor Willis) … then the record company makes money… and the musician is already bound to the terms of an unfavorable agreement that exploits them. FOR THIS REASON, the US Copyright Law contains termination provisions.
News of the copyright termination provision abounds recently; since, the first batch of songs from 1978 will be eligible for copyright termination in 2013… AND notice of the intended termination must be given this year. With some exceptions, The Copyright Law states that a grant or transfer or license of a copyright that was made by an author in or after 1978 may be terminated by that author (or his widow and/or children) 35 years after the grant. Authors must give notice of their intent to terminate not less than two or more than ten years from the intended termination date.
The time is NOW and evidently many famous musicians including Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, Loretta Lynn, Tom Waits, Charlie Daniels and Victor Willis (of the Village People/YMCA) have given notice of copyright termination. Not surprisingly the recording companies are putting up resistance to the possible disappearance of large revenue streams. News reports indicate that the recording companies are challenging Victor Willis’s claim on the basis of ‘work for hire.’ This means that the companies claim that Willis was an employee… and legally… status as an employee trumps a copyright termination claim. It will be interesting to see what evidence is presented to the court to prove this claim. (fyi… living in a van or at a YMCA without health insurance or employee benefits is not a strong indicator of work for hire/employee status.)
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
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For more info: Termination of Transfers and Licenses Under 17 U.S.C. §203 at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/203.html ; see also the ‘Statement of Marybeth Peters, The Register of Copyrights, before the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, May 25, 2000 at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/regstat52500.html; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.