Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

For record labels, 35 years of revenue just isn’t enough

The law giveth and the law taketh away. Record labels worldwide always call their legal eagles when the going gets tough and those pesky kids need to be slapped down. We’ve seen a rash of this carry-on already in 2012, …

Fri, Feb 17, 2012, 09:18

   

The law giveth and the law taketh away. Record labels worldwide always call their legal eagles when the going gets tough and those pesky kids need to be slapped down.

We’ve seen a rash of this carry-on already in 2012, with the record industry favouring court action and governmental lobbying rather than trying something new.

But occasionally the tables are turned and labels are caught rapid by someone using the law against them and their interests. Say hello to Section 203 of the Copyright Act 1976 from the United States Congress. This allows musicians who sold the rights to their music to terminate those arrangements after 35 years, provided they give advance notice to the labels.

The law was passed in 1978, which means 2013 is when acts like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Tom Waits and many other songwriters can regain control of their copyrights and especially the revenue which their songs are still earning.

The notice letters are already flowing and labels and publishers are going through the act with a fine toothcomb in an effort to reduce their losses. It seems that 35 years is just not long enough to exploit an act’s catalogue.

What the labels fear is that the acts will now negotiate more favourable contracts for themselves, something the labels rarely offered back in the day. As the labels view exploiting back-catalogues as an easier source of cash than the trials and tribulations of developing new acts, they certainly don’t want to lose valuable albums to acts who might well go elsewhere or, worse, go it alone.

It’s the perfect metaphor to sum up an once vibrant industry. Instead of finding new stars, the labels are hell-bent on ensuring the ones they signed 40 years ago are still within their grasp.

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