A recently filed pair of proposed class action lawsuits in the New York District Court seek to hold Sony and UMG liable for ignoring the copyright termination notices they have received from countless musicians, including John Waite, Joe Ely, David Johansen, John Lyon, and Paul Collins.
The plaintiffs assert that these two music giants have rejected the copyright termination notices the artists sent citing various reasons, but primarily that the copyrights in question are works made for hire and thus don't qualify for termination. The plaintiffs disagree and are challenging whether sound recordings can even qualify as works made for hire.
35 Years and Counting
The case centers on the same claim that many musicians have, after trying to reclaim their copyrights using Sec. 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976, they were denied.That section allows creators to reclaim their copyrights after 35 years, but has some notable exceptions, such as a bar on works made for hire.
One of the bigger issues involves whether songs made while a musician was under contract qualify as works made for hire or not. This issue is rather critical as works made for hire are considered to be owned by the hirer, and the author cannot claw back their copyright under section 203.
The cases allege that the termination notices were "routinely and systematically refused," and that both Sony and UMG have continued to infringe upon the musicians' copyrights after receiving the notices. As noted by Reuters, some of the artists have never received royalties, and the lawsuits seek an injunction forcing the companies to honor the termination notices, as well as for damages and attorney fees.