Bracing For The Copyright Cliff: A Second Wind For Legacy Artists

You may soon be hearing more of the songs you love being used and reworked in popular culture. What is being termed the ‘copyright cliff’ is actually an opportunity for musicians, authors and copyright holders who have released works around the 35 year ago mark to renegotiate their original agreements. In the case of musicians who released through record labels for instance, this means many now have the ability to regain ownership of their work if they choose to go through the legal procedures to request termination.

Listen to the audio clip below from Studio 360 featuring host Kurt Andersen and entertainment lawyer Lita Rosario. It will be interesting to see how much creativity is unleashed once it becomes easier for creators to work with some of these great songs. A move that will also undoubtedly reinvigorate the catalogs of many artists and introduce fans to works they may have missed.

This 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?

photo: cold storage

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Comments

  1. Daren Burns says:

    will be very interesting to see how this plays out and if it will bring more creativity along with it.

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