When someone produces music, their goal is normally to share it with the world. But in some cases, musicians decide they don’t like royalty arrangements they’ve made or who they’re working with. This is the case with several prominent musicians from the 70s who have filed claims against UMG Recordings and Sony Music.
Artists including John Waite, Joe Ely, David Johansen, John Lyon, and Paul Collins tried to give notices of termination to their publishers and record labels. Unfortunately, they were allegedly met with dismissals or invitations to renegotiate the deals they previously made.
Many artists in the 70s gave away the rights to their music when their careers were just taking off. The Copyright Act of 1976 gave these artists a second chance by allowing them to terminate copyright grants later on in their contract. This law says that authors and owners are allowed to terminate the grants of any copyrighted materials 35 years after the original contract was signed.
These lawsuits allegedly state that UMG and Sony are saying that because of contractual language in the signed recording agreements, the recordings are “works made for hire”, which means the recordings were prepared by an employee within the extent of their employment.
The complaint states, “As a result of UMG’s policy, UMG has refused to acknowledge that any recording artist has the right to take over control of the sound recordings, or enter into an agreement with a different label for the exploitation of recordings, after the effective date of termination. In many instances, UMG has continued to exploit the recordings after the effective date, thereby engaging in willful copyright infringement of the United States copyright in those recordings.”
These lawsuits are not the first of their kind — hundreds of other claims have been filed by other recording artists for the same reason. And with there being laws in place to protect copyrighted or sensitive information, like the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, these musicians are fighting to reclaim their right to their own music.
The plaintiffs in these case are aiming to address the issue of timeliness for establishing the statute of limitations, whether or not the rights of termination fall under a breach of contract, and they’re also seeking monetary compensation.