A number of the world’s biggest recording artists may be set to wrest control of their back catalogues from their respective record companies after a loophole in US copyright law sees them able to file to have the copyright and master recordings returned to them.
When US copyright law was altered in the mid 1970s, it granted ‘termination rights’ to artists, allowing them to regain control over their work after 35 years had passed, on the proviso that they applied to do so two years in advance.
Recordings released in 1978 are the first to fall under this provision of copyright law, and a number of the world’s biggest selling artists have already put in train the processes to take back the masters of their work, which since release have made millions and millions for their record companies.
Some of these artists include Bruce Springsteen, who released Darkness On The Edge of Town and Billy Joel who released 52nd Street, and were both amongst the biggest selling records of the year. At stake is potentially millions of dollars not just for the artists, but for other personnel who worked on the relevant albums.
The ruling also leaves uncertainty for artists from other countries such as the UK or Australia, who released albums in the US but may not be covered under the law. Members of the Little River Band will be particularly interested as they scored a US Top 20 with Sleeper Catcher, released in 1978 that featured the hit single ‘Reminiscing’ which reached the exalted position of number three on the US Billboard Charts.
Naturally, the big four record companies are fighting this tooth and nail, arguing that they own the recordings and masters in perpetuity. With sales of recorded music plummeting, the record labels are desperate to hold on to these relatively low cost, high profit back catalogue recordings.