July 22, 2019
Artists from the early 1980s may soon start looking to terminate their copyright grants previously given to music companies. According to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, authors of copyrighted works can reclaim the copyrights to their original creations after a period of 35 years.
Several artists have started to take advantage of this statutory provision. For example, John Waite, a solo artist and former lead singer of The Babys, and Joe Ely, who has recorded 18 solo albums and was a performer on works by The Clash and Rosie Flores, are currently leading a class action against Universal Music Group (“UMG”), in an effort to force UMG to stand down and relinquish its rights to their music. Waite and Ely claim that, in the face of termination notices, the music giant has “routinely and systematically refused to honor them.”
UMG fought back by submitting a bid to dismiss the class action and “stave off mass termination from older recording artists”. The music company put forth several contentions, including that (a) some artists, by having done business through loan-out corporations, are not the actual grantors and therefore cannot terminate the copyright grants; and (b) some recordings were registered as “work-for-hire” notations, meaning they were created in the course of “employment” and are therefore owned by UMG.
Authors: Larissa Fulop and Samanthea Samuels