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:
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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.