Copyright Isn’t Forever
Tuesday October 01st 2013, 10:21 am
Filed under: Copyright & Legal

So here’s an interesting thing. You know how you hear stories about young, inexperienced songwriters and performers who — not fully understanding all the implications — sign away the copyright to their works in return for a little bit of short-term revenue? And the big corporation goes on to make millions, while the artist goes broke? Or the company sits on the song and the songwriter actually has to pay royalties to them if she wants to later record her own song…

Doesn’t seem fair, but it is the law. And these kinds of things happen, all too often.

Well, now those songwriters may have a chance to regain control of their works. Turns out, “assignment of copyright” isn’t forever — at least not for copyright assignments made after January 1, 1978. Staring this year, artists who signed away their copyrights after 1978 have a chance to get their rights back!

The Fine Print

So, this article I found lays out all the details. It’s written targeting the video game industry, but the principles (and the rules) are the same for musicians, so it’s worth a read.

Essentially, once you’ve assigned your copyright to someone else, they own it pretty much without question for 35 years. (Well, unless you can prove you were the victim of some kind of fraud, breach of contract or other illegal act perpetrated by the assignee, that is…)

But once 35 years is up, you can “take back” your copyright, no questions asked, and your work once again becomes yours. (Yay!)

Yeah, I know… 35 years is a long time. But if you think about all the songs that have been out there for a lot longer than 35 years and are still getting airplay (and not just on “classic rock” stations), being used in commercials, getting re-recorded by newcomers, being sampled in other songs… well, a 35 year-old song or performance may not be as “worthless” as you might think. (Especially if, now that you’ve got a few more years of experience under your belt, you get out there and promote the heck out of it.)

Maybe Not a DIY Project

Only thing is, there’s a limited window of time within which you can terminate the copyright assignment. And you have to do it in writing. And the written notification has to be served to the assignee within a specified period of time. So if you’re in the position of wanting to reclaim your copyrights and you want to make sure it happens the way it should, your best bet is to work with a lawyer who’s familiar with entertainment law.

Of course, the best thing might be to not sign away your copyrights in the first place. But that’s a post for another day…

Article copyright © by Diane M. Aull. All Rights Reserved.

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