While there are many people who dream of becoming an internationally renowned singer/songwriter, the position does have its drawbacks. For starters, many of them don’t own the rights to their own songs for their most lucrative years, and even when the songs’ copyrights have ended, many songwriters still have trouble regaining rights to the music they created.
For example, Sir Paul McCartney, writer and cowriter of some of the most successful songs of all time (including “All You Need Is Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”) is currently suing Sony/ATV for allegedly refusing to give up the rights to his songs.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976, authors and creators are allowed to reclaim the rights to their art from publishers after a certain amount of time has passed. Since that amount of time has expired for many of the Beatles’ timeless songs, McCartney should be able to reclaim ownership of his songs, but Sony/ATV has decided to put up a fight.
Artists trying to reclaim the rights to their work is still a relatively new phenomenon and many of the courts are still trying to figure out the best way to apply the 1976 Copyright Act. In late 2016, the band, Duran Duran filed and lost a copyright lawsuit when the judge determined that, because the original contract fell under the jurisdiction of British law, American copyright law did not apply.
McCartney and John Lennon both signed several publishing contracts for the songs they wrote together as part of the Beatles, but those contracts were signed in England. As a result, Sony/ATV has allegedly suggested to McCartney and his attorneys that McCartney will be unable to reclaim songs’ copyrights under U.S. law.
Since the Sony/ATV executives refused to confirm they would cooperate in giving McCartney his song rights back, McCartney responded by filing a lawsuit in Manhattan against the music company. The suit is asking a judge to declare in McCartney’s favor that he is within all his legal rights to seek the copyrights to songs he wrote fifty years ago.
Sony/ATV released a statement assuring the public they hold McCartney in the highest regard and that they were disappointed by his decision to file the lawsuit, which is a step more than they think necessary at this time.
The 1976 copyright lawsuit, as well as the rise of self-publishing, have created new opportunities for financial leverage for artists who wrote and performed record-breaking songs. Nevertheless, the industry is still trying to catch up to the many changes that have been happening very quickly in technology. Large publishing companies, like Sony, have been hard put to give up the vast amount of leverage they hold over the artists who make them millions of dollars. The company’s unwillingness to relinquish the rights to songs that have remained popular since the mid-twentieth century is understandable, as are McCartney’s attempts to regain control over those same songs.
If the court refuses to grant McCartney’s request for a declaration of judgment in his favor, it could put similar restrictions on countless other international musicians whose songs have been published in the United States. On the other hand, a decision in McCartney’s favor could open the way for other musicians to take legal action towards reclaiming the rights to their music.Super Lawyers named Illinois business trial attorneys Peter Lubin and Vincent DiTommaso Super Lawyers in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation and Consumer Rights Litigation. DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s Illinois business trial lawyers have over a quarter of century of experience in litigating complex class action, copyright, non-compete agreement, trademark and libel suits, consumer rights and many different types of business and commercial litigation disputes. Our Evanston and Lake Forest business dispute lawyers handle emergency business law suits involving copyrights, trademarks, injunctions, and TROS, covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud. You can contact us by calling (630) 333-0000 or our toll free number (877) 990-4990. You can also contact us online here.