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

We've covered a ton of stories about the coming termination rights battles. If you don't recall, under current copyright law, content creators can "terminate" the assignment of their copyright after 35 years and regain the copyright. This is a right that cannot be negotiated away or given to anyone but direct heirs. Since the specifics of this rule went into effect in 1978, we're reaching the point where lots and lots of musicians who came out with work in the late 70s can start reclaiming their copyrights from the labels. The labels, of course, have gone to great lengths to fight this -- even to the point of some allegedly sneaky practices in trying to get the law changed, and also (almost certainly incorrect) claims that musicians signed to a label are actually "work for hire" situations, where the label retains the copyright. That argument is unlikely to hold up to much scrutiny in many of these cases.

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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 12:53pm

    "It's a ticking time bomb for the music industry as artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Tom Petty have sent their own notices."

    Sweet!

    "Willis got royalty percentages that ranged from 12 percent to 20 percent on his work"

    What a joke. One of the content creators gets less than a fifth of the money from sales. Even victims of mafia protection rackets got more.

     

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      Lowestofthekeys (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

      Re:

      It's even worse when you consider that the RIAA tried to reduce royalty rates to their artists to 9% a few years back.

      They've managed to piss off their clients and consumers, and apparently this fact never seems to come to their attention.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:07pm

    If this stands, it will represent a sea change in the industry.... for the better for artists.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    rubberpants, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:12pm

    Biased

    It's almost like this site doesn't like rent-seeking middlemen.

    I'm done with this site. Done I tells ya! Until later today when I'll be back.

     

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    Ernest, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:16pm

    The Record label makes over 1 million dollars a year from YMCA license Victor Willis the writer $30,000. What's wrong with this picture?

     

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    Aliasundercover, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:16pm

    35 Years

    Copyright should be done and over with long before 35 years.

     

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    GMacGuffin (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 1:17pm

    [F]or reasons that aren't entirely clear, the two publishing companies -- Scorpio Music and Canít 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 ...

    Perhaps because work for hire is an untenable argument that can be thrown into an out-of-court argument, but would be suicidal to actually claim as it dilutes any actual arguments.

    How on earth would a label prove they controlled the "manner and means of production" when that involves songwriting, arranging, and all sorts of work long before it hits the studio. (Ahh, they might say, but it's like a commissioned work. We had an album deal, which we commissioned. Er, not. You didn't commission a jingle to sell widgets. You didn't say, we need song about flowers for track 3, one about "busting a cap" for track 9 ....)

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:21pm

    No Big Deal

    It's really no big deal for the labels. It just means that they are going to have to take a few more bucks out of the next trillion dollar selling Lady GAGA album and buy enough Senators to get a bill passed that says they "win in court no matter what".

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:24pm

    aaayyy, Tony!

    As a fine upstanding member of the Mafia, I object strongly to the use of the term "MAFIAA".


    Please stop giving crime and corruption a bad name.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    'The labels, of course, have gone to great lengths to fight this -- even to the point of some allegedly sneaky practices in trying to get the law changed'

    are you really saying that the labels would stoop so low as to try this type of underhanded trick, rather than give those who actually did the performing the right to earn some money from it?

    i can't believe what i have just read!! lying fuckers! cant think of any other similar circumstances at all, haha

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    are you really saying that the labels would stoop so low

    They are lower than low. They need a step ladder to make it up to that low.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2012 @ 6:27am

      Re: are you really saying that the labels would stoop so low

      step ladder my ass, they need at least a 40 footer.

       

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    identicon
    bob, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:35pm

    Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

    You're always against people enforcing any of these rights. You call people trolls for asking the government to enforce the constitution. So why do you want to celebrate something that turns the artists into trolls?

     

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      Franklin G Ryzzo (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 1:40pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      Wait... what?!?!

      I know all of those words, it's just that they make no sense when arranged in that order... Care to try again?

       

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      GMacGuffin (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 1:41pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      (I'm gonna regret this). OK, bob: Just give us one single example where a party has been called a troll here for wanting to enforce the Constitution.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:43pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      Funny I don't see the constitution spelling out the specifics of copyright gone wild, in fact I find the direct opposite.

      A common theme here is "yes you can legally sue your customers and fans, but it's probably not a good long term plan to do so".

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      Ok, I'll bite. This is not about turning artists into trolls, it is about giving artists greater control over their own creation as it should be.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 3:28pm

        Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

        Great control = exclusive rights granted by copyright. People here pretty commonly refer to those to enforce those rights as trolls.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 4:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

          No, people here refer to those who do nothing with their rights except sue others as trolls.

          There's a difference between enforcing your rights while innovating and doing something useful with your rights and hording rights/patents and doing nothing with them and then suing everyone else who tries to do anything even remotely similar into oblivion.

          You know who else is called a "troll". People who come here and bitch about the people on this site and try to label them or put them into little boxes they've made up for everyone who calls "foul" over the stupid actions done by various companies. Actions like piracy enforcement/laws that have no positive gain and that are burdensome on the tax payers and restrict the rights of the many, for the needs of the few who refuse to adapt. Actions like stifling innovation and suing competitors who come up with similar ideas, while doing nothing with the patents they hold because they have no inclination to do so... beyond suing others for actually wanting to create something which is too much work. And so on and so forth.

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 4:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

            "No, people here refer to those who do nothing with their rights except sue others as trolls."

            While that's a more classic use of the term, it's certainly not the only use of the term around here.

            As for the rest of your comment, is it meant to be ironic?

             

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              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 6:46pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

              Actually, that is correct. It may not be the only use of the term around here, but it's more correct and used much more often in the way I stated than in the manner you're attempting to portray the people who comment here regularly or the writers use it as.

              As for the rest of my comment... why don't you figure it out? I think it's quite obvious what I was saying. Calling people stupid for doing stupid things and then being labeled as "piracy apologists" or "pro-piracy" or "artists haters" and so on and so forth is something that is done frequently by a handful of ACs who can't seem to handle the fact that the labels/studios are being called out for their moronic or unethical actions. Rather than debate actual points or discuss things like adults (without ad homs and with actual facts, not opinions). Those people can also be considered trolls.

              Now, I wasn't calling you one. But if any of that is something you do on a regular basis, well... if the shoe fits.

               

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                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2012 @ 8:29am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

                "Now, I wasn't calling you one."

                And you think that was "quite obvious"? Why rant on about some random third parties in a response to my post?

                 

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      weneedhelp (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 1:58pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      boB, why do you hate artists so much?

       

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        DannyB (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

        Because the dinosaur middlemen cannot get a free ride on the backs of the artists?

        Oh, wait, you thought I was talking about hollywood accounting? I wasn't. I was talking about dinosaurs not wanting artists to get their copyrights back. If artists get the copyrights back, we might see some innovative business models. Then what will the trolls troll about?

         

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      DannyB (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      We asked the government to obey the constitution, and we were happy about it. They stopped SOPA and we cheered.

      We want the government to enforce the constitution. We want them to advance the useful arts and sciences. Not the profits of some dinosaur gatekeepers that haven't yet moved into the 20th century (let alone the 21st).

      We want the government to enforce the constitution so that domain names cannot be seized taking away a popular blog's first amendment rights, over mere accusation with no proof of anything ever being done wrong.

      The only one being called a troll is you troll boy.

       

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        identicon
        Lee, May 9th, 2012 @ 2:49pm

        Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

        "taking away a popular blog's first amendment rights"

        Blogs don't have First amendment rights. American citizens do.

        At no time were the writers or owners of said blog gagged, or their hands tied so that they could not express themselves. They may have had to do it someplace other than their blog. But their rights were never removed.


        Besides, come on it was a Hip Hop blog no great loss anyway.

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 2:58pm

          Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

          They may have had to do it someplace other than their blog. But their rights were never removed.


          Closing down a venue for expression can be a violation of the first amendment even when other venues can be used for the expression.

          Besides, come on it was a Hip Hop blog no great loss anyway.


          So constitutional rights only apply to speech that you personally find worthwhile?

           

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          G Thompson (profile), May 9th, 2012 @ 11:55pm

          Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

          Didn't your SCOTUS Just come to a decision about corporations also having 1st Amendment rights as well, ie: Corporations are also people in the area of expressing themselves

          Therefore Blogs being extensions of a corporation (either as an Incorporated body or sole trader) by definition under SCOTUS also have this right.

           

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          PaulT (profile), May 10th, 2012 @ 1:56am

          Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

          "Blogs don't have First amendment rights. American citizens do."

          OK then, they took away a platform that allowed citizens to exercise their 1st amendment rights despite said platform having done nothing wrong.

          Better?

          "Besides, come on it was a Hip Hop blog no great loss anyway."

          "They came for the hip-hop blogs but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a hip-hop blogger..."

          Really, is the standard of free speech you wish to apply just whatever you personally find relevant?

           

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 2:33pm

      Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

      I'm going to recycle your statement into what a Pro-Label troll would say:
      You're always against labels making any of their profit. You call labels trolls for bribing the government to enforce the copyright laws. So why do you want to celebrate something that turns the industry into trolls?

       

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        ltlw0lf (profile), May 10th, 2012 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

        I'm going to recycle your statement into what a Pro-Label troll would say:

        You're always against labels making any of their profit. You call labels trolls for bribing the government to enforce the copyright laws. So why do you want to celebrate something that turns the industry into trolls?


        Most of us here don't have a problem with labels bribing the government to enforce copyright laws. The problem I see, and I believe many of us agree with, is the labels bribing the government to make new laws that favor a very small, and predominantly international set of corporations over artists and the people of the US instead. And the fact that the government can accept those bribes even though such acceptance would be illegal anywhere else.

         

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          PaulT (profile), May 11th, 2012 @ 1:15am

          Re: Re: Re: Of course I'm for helping artists, but why do you care?

          "Most of us here don't have a problem with labels bribing the government to enforce copyright laws."

          Erm, I most certainly would. If a private corporation needs to bribe officials to enforce existing laws, that means one of two things. One is that the officials are so corrupt they won't do their jobs without a bribe. The other is that the copyright law is considered less important to enforce with the finite resources available. In this case, the labels bribing officials are taking resources away from more important duties (e.g. enforcing laws that actually protect life or real property) to protect the labels' profits.

          Neither of these is a particularly good situation.

           

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    identicon
    Grant, May 9th, 2012 @ 2:40pm

    accounting for loss

    any accountant will tell you that you need to plan for the future and be ready when property depreciates, the same thing goes for intellectual property.

    a prudent company plans for when the factory they just built will need to be replaced. when a company gets to the end of their factories life span and suddenly realizes that they are unprepared to deal with replacing or updating it, I don't feel sorry for them. it's their own shortsightedness and unwillingness to prepare for and adjust to the future that got them into this position in the first place.

    the same thing goes for copyright holders who seem to be surprised and unprepared for this.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 3:29pm

      Re: accounting for loss

      Not sure if they're really surprised/unprepared; they just couldn't do anything about it beforehand.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 3:21pm

    Has anybody seen a link to the opinion?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2012 @ 3:30pm

    Victor Willis needs crack money.

     

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    Michael, May 9th, 2012 @ 4:42pm

    The beginning of the end for the major labels

    Good riddance.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2012 @ 3:28am

    however big the trouble may be that the big labels may be in, it is nowhere big enough!!

     

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      identicon
      Michael, May 10th, 2012 @ 6:03am

      Re:

      "however big the trouble may be that the big labels may be in, it is nowhere big enough!!"

      I beg to differ. If it weren't such a big deal, they wouldn't have sent Mitch Glazier in to try and slip in a provision to have all music recordings redefined as a 'work for hire.' Many artists are beginning taking back their albums, creating a significant gap in the labels' back catalog. In addition, the labels now have to compete with the free market, i.e. all the independent artists, most of whom despise the labels. As well, music sales haven't been so hot for the labels in recent memory due to a suffocating lack of new quality music. No matter how the labels try to prop up their new stable of acts, e.g. how they artifically inflate YouTube's view count for Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, etc., most people simply DO NOT CARE for their "music." The new artists' back catalogs won't be worth anything down the line because their music is cookie-cutter, manufactured garbage, so there goes that.

      Yes, this is the beginning of the end for the major labels.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2012 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re:

        I think this is the middle of the end for the major labels.

        The end of the end will come in Dec 2012 ;)

         

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2012 @ 9:33am

    Outside the USA

    It is nice to see that the copyright goes back to the actual artists, it still better off than with the corporations (I still have a problem with copyright terms beyond 5 years, though).

    It seems to me that this can only happen in the USA. What happens with the copyright elsewhere (e.g. Canada)? I presume everything stays as it was.

     

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