Big shift in copyright law effective in new year changes rights for artists

Studio 360

(Photo courtesy of Island / Mercury.)

The coming 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.

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," said 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 of dollars — or perhaps even billions of dollars — are at stake.

Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Styx, Billy Joel and The Eagles will most likely file to reclaim the rights to their music next year. Rosario, who represents artists, acknowledges that old albums and best-ofs generate far more revenue for the labels than do new releases.

With the artists reclaiming the rights to that music, the labels will no longer be able to profit from the old songs.

"It's not going to mean the end of the record labels,” Rosario said, “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 said. "The major labels and major publishers are much more restrictive about that."