Recording artists may soon have the ability to own their classic recordings, and the revenues that come with them, but not without a fight.
A recent New York Times article focused on “a little-known provision” in U.S. copyright law that would let songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Don Henley and Glenn Frey reclaim their songs.
Copyright law was revised in the mid-’70s, and artists were given “termination rights.” They were allowed to get control of their work after 35 years as long as they applied two years in advance. Bob Dylan is one who has already filed for some of his compositions, as have Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Tom Waits and others, according to the Times.
“In terms of all those big acts you name, the recording industry has made a gazillion dollars on those masters, more than the artists have,” Henley told the paper. “So there’s an issue of parity here, of fairness. This is a bone of contention, and it’s going to get more contentious in the next couple of years.”
The Times noted plummeting record sales as one reason the majors would want to hold on to their bread-and-butter catalogs.\
Apparently they are pulling out the “works for hire” trump card – the claim from a decade ago that caused an uproar with artists, sparked Congressional hearings, and motivated Henley and Sheryl Crow, in part, to form the Recording Artists Coalition.
Record companies claim recordings are their property into perpetuity because they are the ones who hired the musicians on the songs.
“We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” RIAA general counsel Steven Marks told the Times.
But independent copyright experts are not convinced by the recording industry’s arguments, according to the paper. If record companies hired these musicians in the ’70s, they aren’t on the payroll now.
“This is a situation where you have to use your own common sense,” June Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at Columbia University School of Law, told the Times. “Where do they work? Do you pay Social Security for them? Do you withdraw taxes from a paycheck? Under those kinds of definitions it seems pretty clear that your standard kind of recording artist from the ’70s or ’80s is not an employee but an independent contractor.”
Congress passed the copyright law in 1976, it went into effect in 1978, and the earliest artists can reclaim their work is Jan. 1, 2013, the paper reported.
Click here for the complete New York Times article (subscription may be required).