Key Ruling In The Fight Over Artists Getting Their Copyrights Back Suggests The Labels May Be In Big Trouble
from the y-m-c-a dept
The first of the really key cases (there have been some others that actually focused on an earlier law) involved one of the members of "The Village People" trying to reclaim his copyrights for works released in 1978. This actually seemed like it would be a good case for the major labels in that they actually could have made a semi-credible argument that the Village People were a "work for hire" situation -- especially since the group was put together on purpose, rather than a group that had formed outside and was then picked up by the label. However, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, the two publishing companies -- Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions -- who are fighting the attempt by The Village People's Victor Willis to terminate the assignment -- chose to drop the work for hire claim, but instead focused in on a claim that Willis couldn't terminate the copyright assignment, because he shared the copyright with other members in the band.
The problem, of course, with putting all your eggs in one basket, is that the basket can fall... and that seems to have happened. The judge in the case has pretty decisively ruled against the publishers and said that partial copyright owners still can exercise their termination rights:
"It would be contrary to the purpose of the [Copyright] Act to require a majority of all joint authors who had, at various times, transferred their copyright interests in a joint work to terminate the legally permissible separate grant by one joint author of his undivided copyright interest in the work. The purpose of the Act was to 'safeguard authors against unremunerative transfers' and address 'the unequal bargaining position of authors, resulting in part from the impossibility of determining a work's value until it has been exploited. Under Plaintiffs' interpretation, it would be more difficult to terminate an individual grant than it would be to make it in the first place."That ruling is going to make plenty of labels/publishing companies pretty nervous -- but it seems like a pretty good thing for artists.