December 22, 2016
As is typical in publishing agreements, Duran Duran’s deal with Gloucester Place Music Limited (part of EMI) included a worldwide assignment of rights in their songs for the duration of copyright and any extensions and renewals.
Duran Duran tried to do what many before then have done and take advantage of the US copyright law (s.203 US Copyright Act 1976) that gives copyright authors, including songwriters, a five year window to terminate assignments and reclaim copyright they have licensed or assigned after 35 years. American acts such as Blondie and Billy Joel have all successfully served notice s.203 notices on their publishers so that valuable copyright in their songs reverts to them and they are free to exploit and claim revenue without the publisher’s involvement.
Duran Duran served notice on its publisher in 2014 to terminate the assignment of copyright in the US. Gloucester Place subsequently brought a claim against Duran Duran and the notice was held to be a breach of contract by the English courts, who ruled that the copyright should remain with the publisher.
The reasoning for this is that the publishing agreement is governed by English law. The assignment agreement was a very broad assignment of rights and Duran Duran had further agreed not to transfer the copyright to any other person, which the courts deemed to mean to any other person other than the publishers. The English courts therefore held that the intention of the agreement was for the entire copyright to remain vested in the publisher for the life of copyright, which therefore precluded the band from serving the s.203 notice in the US. By serving the notice, the band had breached the agreement which states that they will not transfer copyright from the publisher.
Although bad news for the band this is not bad news for all songwriters. This case turned on contract interpretation and a governing law issue (US v English). Songwriters with differently drafted publishing deals and those not subject to English law can still benefit from a s.203 notice.
For any issues relating to music copyright and contract interpretation email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Claire Shomade
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