There are a lot of folks who think that copyright terms are too long, locking up works long past the point when the people who created them can benefit from their sale. But when Congress passed the extension of copyright, it also wrote in the requirement that after 35 years, artists who gave up their copyrights to the companies they were signed with, often when they were in unfavorable negotiating positions, to get them back. And now a federal court has upheld that ability to reclaim copyrights, despite industry objections that producers should be given a share of rights or that individuals can’t reclaim their copyrights on works with multiple authors, which means that Victor Willis can get his copyright to some of the Village People’s most famous songs back. From Eriq Gardner at the Hollywood Reporter:
It’s a ticking time bomb for the music industry, and thus, the lawsuit by Scorpio and Can’t Stop to prevent Willis from making his own termination became one of the industry’s first and most important legal battles on this front.
In the case, the publishers made the argument that Willis’ copyright pullback should be deemed improper because the songs were created by several authors — not just Willis. They argued he couldn’t terminate a share; that he needed all of the co-authors on board.
On Monday, Judge Moskowitz rejected that assessment. “The Court concludes that a joint author who separately transfers his copyright interest may unilaterally terminate the grant,” writes the judge in the opinion.
The judge adds that the law doesn’t require a joint author to enter into a joint grant with one of his co-authors, nor does the statute provide that “where two or more joint authors enter into separate grants, a majority of those authors is needed to terminate any one of those grants.”
This is copyright working as it’s intended, to help non-corporation people benefit from the work they’ve created. I’d imagine the music industry will continue to fight this and do its best to hold on to as much copyright as possible. But I’ll be curious to see how the business model responds. Record companies are already confronting the fact that artists don’t have to rely on them for distribution. It’s not a good look to be the folks who are fighting artists’ attempts to profit off their own work, as if 35 years isn’t enough.