RIAA to fight musicians over copyright ‘termination rights’ on recordings

Outgoing RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol declared in his goodbye letter that the music industry was beating pirates. That’s debatable. However, his former organization will soon have another skirmish to address – not against content thieves, but the content creators themselves. In two years, the rights to music from the late 1970s could be up for auction. That is, unless the RIAA has its way.

RIAA to fight musicians over copyright 'termination rights' on recordings

The “termination rights” clause of copyright protection may soon spark a bitter copyright fight between record labels and musicians according to the New York Times. The rule was ostensibly added to provide artists with an option to acquire the sole rights to their work from publishers after 35 years notes the site, though not without making them jump through some hoops in the process:

Congress passed the copyright law in 1976, specifying that it would go into effect on Jan. 1, 1978, meaning that the earliest any recording can be reclaimed is Jan. 1, 2013. But artists must file termination notices at least two years before the date they want to recoup their work, and once a song or recording qualifies for termination, its authors have five years in which to file a claim; if they fail to act in that time, their right to reclaim the work lapses.

The RIAA – unsurprisingly – wants to retain the rights to all recordings under its umbrella. The group’s counsel told the Times that musicians are actually “work for hire,” and that “the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings.” The United States Copyright Office discussed (.pdf) the complex nature of this relationship, though admitted there’s “no precise standard” in reaching a decision.

“The court left unclear which of these factors must be present to establish the employment relationship under the work for hire definition, but held that supervision or control over creation of the work alone is not controlling,” wrote the USCO, adding: “The closer an employment relationship comes to regular, salaried employment, the more likely it is that a work created within the scope of that employment would be a work made for hire.” At a glance, this means that musicians with a long history at a single label may face an uphill battle should they want to own their music once and for all.

There won’t be any big rulings one way or another for some time. Expect more and more squabbling between the RIAA and its “employees” as the deadline draws near. (via TechDirt)