Bracing for the Copyright Cliff


Friday, December 21, 2012

Album cover for Parliament's Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome (Island / Mercury)

The coming year is a big one for artists whose work was published in 1978. A revision to copyright law allows musicians, authors, or any copyright holders to reclaim their rights after 35 years. For the already-struggling music industry, this could be a lethal blow, or what Kurt Andersen calls the "copyright cliff."

In 1976, Congress passed a new copyright law with a "termination clause" that took effect in 1978. "The legislative intent was to give artists an opportunity to negotiate after the value of the work has been realized," explains entertainment lawyer Lita Rosario, who is filing termination claims for members of Parliament-Funkadelic, including George Clinton.

But copyright holders are bracing for battle, especially in the music industry, where millions or billions of dollars are at stake. Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Styx, Billy Joel, and The Eagles will most likely file paperwork to reclaim rights next year. Rosario, who represents artists, acknowledges that old albums and best-ofs generate far more revenue for the labels than do new releases. "It's not going to mean the end of the record labels,” she says, “but they're going to have to figure something out for sure. It's another factor that's going to go into how this industry is reshaped."

Consumers may not notice the change in rights, but they may start hearing more songs from the late ‘70s popping up in movies, TV, and online. "Recording artists are much more likely to let businesses get access to their music," Rosario says. "The major labels and major publishers are much more restrictive about that."

→ Do you think it's fair that after 35 years, musicians and other artists get their copyrights back from the companies that bought them?
Tell us in a comment below.

    Music Playlist
  1. Pump It Up
    Artist: Elvis Costello
    Album: This Year's Model
    Label: Hip-O Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. The Promised Land
    Artist: Bruce Springsteen
    Album: The Essential Bruce Springsteen
    Label: Columbia
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Because the Night
    Artist: Patti Smith Group
    Album: Easter
    Label: Arista
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Shattered
    Artist: The Rolling Stones
    Album: Some Girls
    Label: UME
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Flashlight
    Artist: Parliament
    Album: Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome
    Label: Island / Mercury
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Super Stupid
    Artist: Funkadelic
    Album: Maggot Brain
    Label: Westbound Records Inc.
    Purchase: Amazon


Lita Rosario

Produced by:

Sean Rameswaram

Comments [2]

After 35 years it only seems fair that the artists should have the opportunity to renegotiate. After all, a lot changes; not least of which is the value of the that 35 year old dollar. Historically, the artists have gotten screwed- good opportunity to have the value of their work adjusted.

Dec. 31 2012 07:12 AM
John Quitzau from ABQ. NM

Sure, artists should be able to regain control of their copyrights. Revised contracts should be written in such a way that fairness rules the day. From a big perspective, it may help our country's current economic mind-set to play-out on a smaller scale. By seeing justice for victims of exploitation and others accepting what is fair and good for all involved, it'll become clear that there's plenty (of money) for everyone when our collective priorities are fair.

Dec. 21 2012 11:05 AM

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