Copyright Termination Rights Debate


SOURCE: Browne, Rolling Stone Online Article, ” Record Biz Braces for Legal Battles Over Copyright Law” <>.

Over the summer, one of the music industry issues I tried to stay abreast of was the debate revolving around copyright termination rights and the desire to clarify the copyright laws.  My interest, however, lies more on the side of the law rather than that on of the desires/ wants/ greed of the music industry (record companies, recording artists, etc…)  The fact that “the work of the creative industries has always been shaped, influenced, enabled, and to some extent restricted or censored by laws and regulations” I this is fascinating, and I’d love to hear other’s opinions on the subject!  (Deuze, 95).

To my limited understanding, the copyright law, as it stands now states that after a creator’s death, the work is protected for an additional 70 years.  It becomes more complicated, however, when there are multiple people involved in the creative process and contracts involved where creators ‘hand over’ their rights.  Copyright Termination Rights basically are there so that artists, writers, and creators who were ripped off when they first got a record contract or publishing deal can have the chance to benefit from their work by taking the ‘rights’ back from the major record labels.

“Section 301 stated that after 35 years, bands and individual artists could claim “termination rights” provided they apply for them two years in advance. This means that, provided the band files for those termination rights, the master recordings of landmark albums like U2′s Boy will be wrenched from the mitts Vivendi’s Universal Music Group and returned to Bono’s crew of civil-minded Irishmen. Time Warner‘s (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. Music will lose lucrative fare like Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Dark times do indeed appear to be getting darker for the big labels” (Agnello,

“As of 1978, §203 of The Copyright Law allows the writer, author, creator who assigns a copyright,OTHER THAN A WORK FOR HIRE  to place the assignee on notice 2 years prior to the 35 year period that they intend to terminate the assignment of rights.  The statute does not allow for any waiver of this termination of rights under contract.  Please also keep in mind that this provision is only in the United States” (Fantino,

This section of the law has gotten more attention lately for 3 reasons.

1. Michigan Representative John Conyers has been pushing to clarify the law (in the favor of artists/ creators) and

2. Lots of very famous works are nearing the deadline dates!

Select Books
1.  The Stand – Stephen King
2.  Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
3.  The House of God – Samuel Shem
4.  The Far Pavilions – M.M. Kaye
5.  Holcroft Covenant – Robert Ludlum
6. Chesapeake – James Michener

Select Songs (artist , not composer shown)
1. Is This Love – Bob Marley & the Wailers
2. Le Freak – Chic
3  My Life – Billy Joel
4. Life’s Been Good — Joe Walsh
5. Night Fever – The Bee Gees
6. Miss You – The Rolling Stones
7. YMCA – Village People
Select Albums: 
Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town
 Billy Joel’s 52nd Street 
Bob Dylan’s Street-Legal
And 3. Record companies are very worried about losing income from selling these ‘back-catalogue’ albums.  For some, this is a tremendous loss- almost 90% of their revenue in some cases!
“At the end of this year, acts who released material in 1978 can now start the process to exercise their termination rights and recoup the publishing rights to songs they created” (Fatino).

My questions are as follows:

-Is this a good thing?  Should artists/ creators be able to get back their work after 35 years and have the rights for the remainder of the 70-year-long copyright?  -Or should these albums be considered ‘works for hire’?

-Will this be the end of a lot of record companies?  Will they be able to withstand this loss?

-Should copyright even be 70 years after the creator’s death?  Isn’t that a long time???  When should creative intellectual property go into the public domain?  Will the public domain cease being added to if we keep extending copyright terms???

~Emmalyn  Helge


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