Are The Record Labels Using Bluebeat's Bogus Copyright Defense To Avoid Having To Give Copyrights Back To Artists?

from the oh,-those-record-labels dept

As you hopefully know, back in 1999, the RIAA had a Congressional staffer named Mitch Glazier slip four words into a totally unrelated bill on satellite retransmission of broadcast TV, literally in the middle of the night, that effectively changed the way copyrights worked on songs by major label artists. It effectively took much of the control out of the hands of the artists and handed it right to the labels. Remember that the next time the record labels claim they're representing the best interests of artists. The use of four simple words, buried deep within the bill, which no one other than the RIAA knew about (seriously, those who voted on it later said they had no idea), turned songs recorded by artists signed to record deals to works made for hire. That meant that those artists could not reclaim the copyrights to their songs later on via a "termination" right, as any other content creator could. Glazier, the staffer who slipped this into the bill, ended up going to work for the RIAA just three months after putting this text into the bill. He was apparently hired with a $500,000 salary. Not a bad payoff for changing a key component of copyright law in the middle of the night when no one's looking.

Luckily, soon after this passed a few people did notice, leading to a big uproar from artists, and an eventual backtracking from Congress, who never did believe the RIAA's line that this "change" just "clarified existing law" rather than changed it entirely.

But, it's important to remember all of this when discussing termination rights for music. Back in October, we had discussed how the songs of many top musicians were quickly approaching those termination rights, and some of the major record labels stood to lose the copyrights on some of their biggest hit albums. Wired recently ran a similar article about this "ticking time bomb," and I wasn't going to post it, because I wasn't sure it added much new, until reader Mesanna pointed out one little factoid down at the bottom:
The second option is to re-record sound recordings in order to create new sound recording copyrights, which would reset the countdown clock at 35 years for copyright grant termination. Eveline characterized the labels' conversations with creators going something like, "Okay, you have the old mono masters if you want -- but these digital remasters are ours."

Labels already file new copyrights for remasters. For example, Sony Music filed a new copyright for the remastered version of Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen album, and when Omega Record Group remastered a 1991 Christmas recording, the basis of its new copyright claim was "New Matter: sound recording remixed and remastered to fully utilize the sonic potential of the compact disc medium."
Now, of course that sounds ridiculous, to hear that record labels can get a new copyright on just remastering a work... but, that sounds an awful lot like the argument made by, concerning its "psycho-acoustic simulation" re-recordings of famous songs, that enabled it to claim a new copyright. Now, the record labels are crying foul about this, and the vast majority of copyright law experts say that Bluebeat's claim has no chance at all. But, if that's the case, then the record labels own attempts to get new copyrights on remastered albums to avoid the termination rights might also be in jeopardy. It seems like any argument that is made against Bluebeat can soon be used against the labels as well if they really do try to claim copyright on remastered albums.
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Filed Under: copyright, music, remasters, termination rights, work for hire

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2009 @ 10:16pm

    Re: No

    Bluebeat attempted to claim that they were creating an entirely new sound recording from the original musical composition and were thus eligible for a completely new sound recording copyright.

    No quite. They claimed that they created a simulation, and the law exempts simulations. If they were claiming "entirely new sound recordings" then they wouldn't need to claim the simulation exemption, would they?

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