Paul C. VanSlyke, Senior Counsel at Hoover Slovacek LLP
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Musicians pursue class action against large recording companies

The entertainment industry can be a tough one to navigate as many aspiring entertainers here in Texas can attest. For instance, musicians often end up signing contracts with record producers that may prevent them from going elsewhere in order to get their big breaks. They may even sign over their copyright protections as part of the deal. This could prove problematic if the artist wants his or her works back.

Back in the 1970s, recording artists and songwriters were willing to give the rights to their works to recording companies in order to get their starts or otherwise further their careers. After the passage of the Copyright Act of 1976, many of them provided termination notices to the companies they worked with in accordance with section 203 of the law. This section provides that after 35 years from the notice, the artists could receive the chance to reclaim their works.

When some of those termination notices came due, the artists asked the companies, UMG Recordings Inc. and Sony Music Entertainment Inc. to comply with the notices. The companies refused to do so saying that the materials in question fall under the work for hire law, which exempts them from the act. This prompted the musicians to file lawsuits against the companies that they hope will receive class action status.

Many musicians could face this issue. For those aspiring artists here in Texas just beginning their careers, the pending lawsuits may serve as a cautionary tale. It would probably be a good idea to make sure that any agreements proposed by a recording company do not take away important rights of the artist.

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