Termination rights and southern gospel

Via NG, a recent story in the New York Times about a not-widely-known provision of the copyright law that will … well, let’s go to the tape:

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. Bob Dylan has already filed to regain some of his compositions, as have other rock, pop and country performers like Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits and Charlie Daniels, according to records on file at the United States Copyright Office.

“In terms of all those big acts you name, the recording industry has made a gazillion dollars on those masters, more than the artists have,” said Don Henley, a founder both of the Eagles and the Recording Artists Coalition, which seeks to protect performers’ legal rights. “So there’s an issue of parity here, of fairness. This is a bone of contention, and it’s going to get more contentious in the next couple of years.”

NG’s question was: given that sg is small fry compared to the money at stake in a single song by Dylan and the Boss, will this reversion of rights have any appreciable affect on sg? (Incidentally, it is this small-time-reality mentality that fuels the pandemic non-payment of royalties in the bidness … that, and a lot of ministry talk that salves the conscience of unscrupulous cheap skates who convince themselves that working in an industry that sings for Jesus permits professional malpractice.)

Anyway, I asked around among some of the smart people I know who know a lot of stuff I don’t in the industry. And on the question of termination rights, one reply to the “will it affect sg” question came from an industry source very well placed to know whereof he speaks. His reply:

Yes, I believe is will affect SGM.  And it should. All creative people should take back their rights (even as a publisher, I’m all for “writers” and “artists” rights). They can re-license back to the company they were with, or license elsewhere or self-administrate.  You only have a window to get back the rights.  Why not take them and decide later what to do? Companies that are well known for not paying royalties will finally get their due!

However, as in music publishing, a lot of companies will probably try and enter into some sort of agreement during or prior to the reversions. This has been going on in music publishing all along during the 56-year reversion period, prior to the change in law on 1/1/78.

Update: A similar take with different emphasis from another industry exec:

The info you and your tribe have found is all correct. We had already discussed it [at the company where this person works] and we’re essentially of the opinion (agreeing with your commenters) that writers should get their copyrights back and we should support that. I kinda doubt if other SG publishers will agree and follow that same line. Also, because of the timeline re: how this all works, songs affected here in the near time frame are are just going to be songs published in 1979-80 with more coming up for grabs each succeeding year. This means that, at least initially, it’s the older companies that were active then, e.g., Benson and Canaan and their various publishing companies that will be dealing with most of this. I would guess that they would probably fight the writers of such songs because they have such an “old school” approach to intellectual property. I could give numerous recent examples of why I think they will take this tack. From my point of view, it will be just fun to watch. The real practical value of such intellectual property (with the exception of very few songs) is really not much and certainly not worth fighting for except for maybe some ego-intrinsic value of “ownership.”   SG is a dying industry and the number of fans who will be there to give value to such material will die as well.

Email this Post


  1. Shawn Degenhart wrote:

    Yes, I think it already is affecting SG. There was an article in the Tennesseean last month about a fight brewing amongst the Brumley siblings over “I’ll Fly Away.” Couldn’t find the article, but here’s a similar story: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110724/BUSINESS06/307240028/Epic-strange-battle-over-Jim-Reeves-music-may-almost-over

  2. Kyle wrote:

    I have several questions in regards to this issue. First of all, albums from the old Heartwarming/Benson/Vista labels will probably be the most sought-after recordings, especially once we hit the 80’s. But then again, if an artist now owns masters that were previously promoted by record labels, then it’s now up to the artist to supply all distribution and promotion for a recording that once had a major distributor behind it.

  3. NG wrote:

    Thanks Doug for your work in getting an answer to my question on whether the copyright change would affect SGM.

  4. NG wrote:

    #1 Might be wrong but I don’t think the new copyright law is a factor in the battles over the estates of country singer Jim Reeves and gospel songwriter Albert E. Brumley. Sounds like those have to do with the wills of the deceased. Baptist Press has more on the Brumley story in the second item here:

  5. Tom wrote:

    I’m fascinated by the comment from the second industry exec [presumably an sg industry exec, if she/he is reading this blog] that “SG is a dying industry.” Perhaps so, and popular opinion and other demographic trends may well support that, but it’s still interesting to hear an industry exec actually state it.

  6. hm... wrote:

    SG and royalties?.;) LOL reminds me of “.Local radio  announcement ‘Dear citizens and guests of the city! A  raccon run away from the tel aviv zoo today. If you saw him, please come  to the zoo’s ticket counter and pay 10 shekels’ Excellent point from the (second) industry exec ,well said. I disagree that it “dies” though, I see it being killed.”A greedy  man  pays twice the price, a lazy one three times, and a fool will be broke in no time” Worse than a fool is a fool with good intentions.

  7. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    Does it matter? Southern gospel is completely predicated on illegally performing/recording other people’s stuff. The whole genre is one great big karaoke contest.

  8. GAbulldog wrote:

    #7, Could you be more specific and give us all examples of what you are talking about.

  9. Bones wrote:

    Alot of gospel singers record PD songs to avoid royalities.

  10. quartet-man wrote:

    #9, At least that is legal and they perhaps feel it is more cost-effective to do so (although I don’t know if it is or not).

  11. Wade wrote:

    Q-Man you know it is legal & you know that even Bill HIGHLY takes in to consideration the fact it is PD, His Song or it’s pretty obvious he will do a particular song to do a favor to a writer or family friend or member!!! Nothing wrong with it I WOULD too!!!

  12. quartet-man wrote:

    Yeah Wade, my last comment was talking about that more albums might be sold if they put good, new songs on them instead of the same ones that have been done a lot.

  13. CVH wrote:

    So my question is, does the law apply to just the publishing (ownership of the copyright in the music and lyrics-”the song”) or to the master recording of the song? Or both?

    A lot of recording agreements in the 70s and 80s were designed so that the record would never recoup, thus the label (or its successors) would retain ownership forever. A few artists bought their masters back and a handful retained ownership of the master from the beginning and basically used the label as a distributor.

    I’ve wondered many times whatever happened to the original two-track masters of so many great records from that era-are they still in storage somewhere, were they digitized before the tape deteriorated, were they allowed to just disintegrate on a shelf somewhere or with all the acquisitions and buyouts over the years are they simply lost? I’m not sure how much value an EMI or Sony or BMG would put on a thirty year old southern gospel master that only sold 10,000 units in its day.

    It will be an interesting process and hopefully one positive outcome will be that the writers who choose to will regain ownership of their work. Another is that the process may uncover some hidden or forgotten gems from that era.

  14. Auke wrote:

    How does anybody feel about the GVB’s latest release ‘I Am a Promise’? Didn’t read any reviews on any of the SG blogs…what do you make of that?

  15. Brian wrote:

    Auke, it’s very much a children’s project. I kinda thought it was going to be a CD of kids songs sung by the GVB. But every song has kids singing, sound effects, etc. Real kids’ stuff. Nothing wrong with that, but not exactly something most adult SG fans would be interested in, probably. I have no plans to review it beyond saying it’s fine for a kid.

  16. CVH wrote:

    It’s all part of Bill’s global domination plans. He’s (smartly) looking at every angle from which to maximize their catalog of songs. The Homecoming series extended and increased the longevity of a lot of titles in their catalog. Other Homecoming-related artists record their songs, unaffiliated artists still do and the GVB has just about maxed out the available tunes. So why not tackle the kids material from the ’70s? The boomers who grew up with the original records will buy it from a nostalgia perspective and a lot of families who’ve never heard the original Trio versions will buy it for their kids. I haven’t listened to it yet but it will probably sell well because it’s an impulse buy, not something you have to think about.

  17. Magnolia wrote:

    To #16:

    If you look at the latest Gaither Homecoming Magazine, I think he’s also going after the Country Market. He and Gloria seem to be closely affiliated with Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, George Jones, Marty Stuart and others. He talks about Gospel music borrowing from Country, African-American, MOR and various other genres of music. I might be wrong on this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t begin to gradually cross over into other genres of music.

    Note to Doug: If you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to get a copy of the latest Gaither Homecoming Magazine as Bill and Gloria talk about the various genres of music and how they interact with Gospel. ……..Very interesting. It might be a signal of things to come.

  18. CVH wrote:


    I’ve seen it - you’re right. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. I believe they have quietly invested in a number of ventures outside gospel music through the years. And Gloria, being an academic, has always been involved in literary pursuits; in fact, it seems like a few years ago she purchased an unfinished (or unpublished) manuscript by John Steinbeck. It wouldn’t surprise me if some day we find out they own Whole Foods or, using a pseudonym foundation name, are major contributors to PBS. Both of which are fine with me.

  19. cdguy wrote:

    Bill & Co. did a series of country homecoming-type videos at the Ryman Auditorium several years ago, with several of the older (many, now deceased) country stars, kids of dead country stars, and a few then-current country stars. So nothing new in that genre would surprise me.

    Maybe he could also do a series of rock and roll homecoming videos? Tributes to Little Richard, Neil Sedaka, and “The Killer”? A Motown Homecoming?

    The possibilities are endless.

  20. irishlad wrote:

    Indeed 17-19, the latest Gaither Series release is Bruno Mars ft Joyce Martin-McCollough-Sanders on Marry me.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked * Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.