Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sir Paul Sues Sony/ATV

Fake news.  That is my characterization of most news stories that report on entertainment and copyright litigation.  Witness the reporting of Paul McCartney's recent lawsuit against music publisher Sony/ATV.  It was reported that McCartney had sued Sony/ATV to recover the copyrights to his Beatles era compensations.

            Paul McCartney did not need to sue anyone to recover his U.S. copyrights.  Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act gives McCartney the right to terminate the assignment of these copyrights after (a mere) 56 years (these songs were all created prior to January 1, 1978; there is a different section that applies to post 1978 copyrights).

            The story of how Sony/ATV ended up with these copyrights to most of the Lennon/McCartney catalog has been detailed elsewhere. Beginning in October 2008, McCartney began serving termination notices on Sony/ATV and according to the complaint, the terminations will begin vesting in October 2018.  Sony has acknowledged that these terminations are valid.  The purpose of McCartney's lawsuit is to seek a declaratory judgment that not only are the terminations valid but that the terminations themselves do not give rise to a breach of contract claim against McCartney by the publisher.

            This may seem somewhat odd since it is well settled that the Copyright Act gives authors the right to terminate assignments of copyright despite any prior agreement to the contrary.  The problem is that this is U.S. law.  There is no corresponding British law.  Last year, when the member of the band Duran Duran attempted to terminate the U.S. assignment of copyright to their works, Sony's affiliate in the United Kingdom sued the band for breach of contract.  The court in that case ruled in favor of Sony/ATV.  This sounds crazy but the court found that Duran Duran did not present expert evidence of U.S. law so the British court did not take U.S. law into consideration.  It seems as if the Duran Duran decision should ultimately be remedied but if it is not, this does put songwriters like McCartney in an untenable position.  How can they exercise their statutory rights in one country only to be sued for breach of contract in another country?  For this reason, McCartney may be taking a stand for similarly situated creators ( i.e. British songwriters who signed UK publishing deals and had success in America) asking the U.S. court to rule that the exercise of his termination rights does not represent a breach of his publishing agreement and/or that the agreements cannot be enforced against him to the extent that they interfere with the exercise of his termination rights.  The unspoken third claim of this declaratory judgment is most likely:  take that Michael Jackson.

            It will be interesting to see how this plays out

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