1970s superstars reclaim their hits through copyright law reform

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A 1976 reform of copyright law by Congress has the music industry bracing itself as popular artists from the 1970s begin to file claims for ownership of their disco-era hits. The legislation granted the writers of the music “termination rights” over publishing rights agreements after 35 years — which means that late 70s hits are about to become eligible.

The copyright law reform applied to songs from 1978 and onward. It allows artists to reclaim rights to their music within five years of the 35-year mark by giving two years’ notice. This year, performers like Bruce Springsteen, the Doobie Brothers and Kenny Rogers have been able to reclaim the publication rights to their 1978 hits. In a few more months, a new batch of artists will be able to reclaim the rights to hits released in 1979.

The legislation is not limited to performers, but applies to songwriters and composers as well. Bob Dylan has already filed for the rights to some of his compositions. Joining him are performers like Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits and Charlie Daniels. Now these artists, songwriters and performers will have the opportunity to end long-term copyright and publication agreements with music producers, reclaiming the majority of the royalties for themselves.

According to many, the music industry is already on its last legs, and this legislation will leave some recording labels without major royalty-producing assets. The industry has lost tremendous sales as fewer people purchase music on the more profitable CD format, opting instead to buy from online suppliers such as iTunes, and fewer purchasers purchase entire albums. The big players in the record industry “have made it clear that they will not relinquish recordings they consider their property without a fight,” said one attorney filing termination claims on behalf of artists.

Source: New York Times, “Record Industry Braces for Artists’ Battles Over Song Rights,” Larry Rohter, Aug. 15, 2011