Friday, January 18, 2013

"Copyright Ownership and Transfer, 203: Termination of - - -" Finally!

"Record Industry Braces for Artists' Battles Over Song Rights"
Larry Rohter (August 15, 2011)

"Since their release in 1978, hit albums like Bruce Springsteen's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,' Billy Joel's '52nd Street,' the Doobie Brothers' 'Minute by Minute,' Kenny Rogers's 'Gambler' and Funkadelic's 'One Nation Under a Groove' have generated tens of millions of dollars for record companies. But thanks to a little-noted provision in United States copyright law, those artists - and thousands more - now have the right to reclaim ownership of their recordings, potentially leaving the labels out in the cold.

"When copyright law was revised in the mid-1970s, musicians, like creators of other works of art, were granted 'termination rights,' which allow them to regain control of their work after 35 years, so long as they apply at least two years in advance. Recordings from 1978 are the first to fall under the purview of the law, but in a matter of months, hits from 1979, like 'The Long Run' by the Eagles and 'Bad Girls' by Donna Summer, will be in the same situation - and then, as the calendar advances, every other master recording once it reaches the 35-year mark.

"The provision also permits songwriters to reclaim ownership of qualifying songs...."

Why should the Lemming care what some rock star's lawyers may be doing? 'Those people' make gazillions of dollars and deserve nothing by envy and/or contempt, right?

First, for every rock star who makes and spends several million a month - and might get called a 'creative genius' after dying of an overdose - there are a whole lot of performers to travel from one gig to another for decades, earning a living while studio brass travel from one luxury resort to another on 'company business.'

Steady, now - the Lemming needs to calm down.

Creative, Marketing, Distribution, and Fairness

A few folks are good at being creative, selling what they create, managing a network of distributors: and hyperactive enough to do all that on their own.

But not many.

The point is that entertainment studios serve an important function, taking care of the business end of music, movies, and media: giving the 'creative' types time to be creative. That's the way it should work, anyway.

In the real world:
  • Responsible studio folks go prematurely gray
    • Wondering if this performer will stay sober enough to finish a tour
    • Trying to find the superstar who stormed out of a recording session
      • And hasn't been seen since
  • Responsible 'creatives' develop ulcers
    • Arguing with the studio over travel expenses
    • Trying to explain why "sunny" doesn't rhyme with "orange"
      • Even if "Sunny Orange" is an important sponsor
More seriously, folks who create and perform deserve tangible rewards; and so do folks who run the business side of entertainment: in the Lemming's considered opinion.

January 1, 2013: 35 Years Later

A rather dry bit of United States law reads, in part:

"(a) Conditions for Termination. - In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is subject to termination under the following conditions...."
(§ 203 . Termination of transfers and licenses granted by the author3)

January 1, 1978 plus 35 years started a little over two and a half weeks ago. From the Lemming's point of view, intellectual property rights changed for the better in America.

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