It Takes a Village to Make a Difference: Continuing the Spirit of Copyright

Brown, Stella | April 1, 2014

The year is 2003, and Betty Lu Brown, a now-famous blues singer and songwriter, sits in deep thought reminiscing about her successful and long-standing music career. She continues to hear her music played over the radio and through the car windows of her now-mature fans, even though she has not released an album for over a decade. Each time she hears her music playing, she cannot help but wonder how much money her publishers and record labels are making from her music, compared to her own earnings. She was very young when she signed her contract and transferred her copyright rights to the music entities. She had no idea her music would produce so many hits. Betty is now debating whether she should take advantage of 17 U.S.C. § 203, a provision added to the Copyright Act of 1976 that would allow her to terminate the transfer of rights she gave away thirty-five years prior in 1978. According to the statute, 2003 is the first year she can provide the music entities with notice of termination. Because her first album came out in 1978, and she wrote and sang each song on the album, Betty’s rights can revert back to her in the year 2013. That year will be the first time anyone can terminate a grant of transfer. On the other hand, Betty recognizes that her record label and publisher make a lot of money from her songs and may not want to give back her music. She also understands that she might have to go to court, but is worried about the outcome. She wonders what arguments her publisher and record label will have, as well as how courts will handle this novel issue. Betty knows she has a lot to think about and only a short time to make a decision. This Note will discuss the issue of copyright termination and the difficulties songwriters and music artists will experience when they attempt to terminate the grants in their music that they provided to publishers and recording labels beginning in 1978. The Note addresses this issue in two ways through the context of the Scorpio Music S.A v. Willis case. First, the Note provides the many arguments publishers and recording labels will argue in an attempt to keep rights in songwriters’ and music artists’ songs. Secondly, the Note provides the counterarguments from the songwriters and music artists that will likely outweigh the arguments of the music entities. The Note concludes that the songwriters’ and artists’ arguments will likely be most successful and that only time will tell which side the court system will seem to favor.