Remember that whole “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “The Nomad” suit filed by retired band manager Barry McKay against Iron Maiden and Steve Harris.
Remember how McKay stated it is all about intellectual property rights and how these IP rights need to be protected from blatant copying while the other side stated that music is all about inspiration and influences and that McKay never actually wrote anything and is a serial litigant.
Remember when any rights to intellectual property ceased when the creator died (provided they still had a right at the time of death). Well, the corporations who held the copyrights to a lot of these works pushed really hard to get laws changed in the 70’s to last the life of the artist plus another 70 years, so what we have now is people who really contribute nothing to culture, locking up culture for a generation and getting paid in the process.
But there was a side in the Government who actually cared about culture, the public domain and were against Government granted monopolies, so they put in a clause that allowed the actual creators to get their rights back after 35 years. But, the labels and the publishing companies who control the rights don’t want to let go of the works as it diminishes their power.
Remember John Waite, from The Babys, Bad English and his work as a solo artist. Well, he wanted his songs back, Universal Music Group said “No”, your works are created under a “works for hire agreement”, John Waite said, “no chance in hell are the songs created under a works for hire agreement” and off to court they went.
So how did it all come to this?
You need to remember that any aspiring artist, had/have/has no bargaining power when for negotiating and signing contracts. If they wanted to get their music out there (pre internet), they more or less had to give away their copyright in their works as part of the contract to get their music out there and monetised.
Then, when an artistic work turns out to be a “hit,” the majority of the royalties goes to the organisation who holds the rights to the works rather than to the artist who created them.
But this “ownership of copyright” by the organisation was meant to be limited. And if the artists wished, they could reclaim their rights. Some artists used the threat of “termination rights” as a tool to negotiate higher royalty rates and advance payments.
But as artists grew popular and they realised they could make some money, they created loan out companies, which is basically a business entity used by the entertainment and sports industries in the US, in which the creator is the ’employee’ whose services are loaned out by the corporate body. The corporation is used as a means to reduce their personal liability, protect their assets and exploit taxation advantages.
And the courts have determined that any rights granted to the labels from the loan out company cannot be terminated, only the rights granted by the actual creator themselves.
For example, John Waite created a loan out company called Heavy Waite Inc. So if he signed a contract to give his copyrights to a label via the loan out company, these rights cannot be terminated. Only the rights that John Waite himself gave up.
It’s pretty fucking stupid if you ask me, but nothing surprises me when lawyers get involved and try to get these termination suits booted on technicalities.
Have you retained your copyrights?
Well, tragically, I fell into some lean times in the late ’90s. I had moved to Miami – we’d fled LA after the  earthquake and we were picking up the pieces.
At that time I got an offer for my catalogue, and I sold my song writing and publishing share to Polygram [now Universal Music Group] – and it was a mistake. I retained my song writing performance rights, and that’s how I know how big a mistake it was, and how much I sold myself short. They made their money back x 20.
I was pressured by people around me to sell. Especially my father, who had grown up in the depression. When I told him the amount, he said, ‘Grab the money, you’ll write other songs, grab the money.’
Also, my lawyers told me, ‘Don’t worry, you get your songs back after 35 years,’ but that’s not true. You don’t get them back for the whole world, you get them back for the US only. And you don’t get your songs back for the versions that made them hits, you only get them back for the new versions – versions made after you sold.
When I found out those two things, it was like two buckets of ice water being poured over me.
The people doing the deal for me were so keen to get their percentages that they didn’t explain these things to me. Had I known, I wouldn’t have signed the deal and I would have been in a much better financial position.
And that my friends is how far Copyright has evolved, where people who create nothing of value get paid and everyone is trying their best to lead the artists astray so they can get paid.
It has nothing to do with intellectual property rights or an incentive to create.