Many musicians have had a love-hate relationship with the “Music Business” (those fast-talking deal makers who live mostly in New York, L.A. and Nashville). No matter what style of music you prefer — country, classical, rock, rap, etc. — young artists have traditionally relinquished to the “Music Business” the distribution and finances of their art in return for promotion and “guidance”. This was nearly always a necessity rather than an option for the successful musician.
Over the past few years, thanks to the internet and .mp3 technology, the monopoly of the “Music Business” has been severely damaged. It has been a mostly welcome revolution that I have chronicled over the last year: “A Musical Revolution with a Cost in Fidelity“, , “The Root Investigates Who Really Gets Paid in the Music Industry“, and “The Music-Copyright Enforcers“.
To put it plainly, the “Music Business” has been on its deathbed for about a decade.
Now, in the August 15, 2011 edition of the New York Times this headline caught my eye: “Record Industry Braces for Artists’ Battles Over Song Rights”. After reading this article, all I can say is, “Wow!”.
The gist of the article is something ominously — for the “Music Business” — called “termination rights“. This is a little noticed right granted to artist in the mid-1970s in the revised copyright law.
Basically, a Termination Right allows an artist, after a specified period of time, to regain all of the rights to his/her music. Most poor young artist are so excited to get a recording or publishing contract that they are happy to sign away their right to their music without giving it much thought.
Such one-sided contracts have long been the life blood of the “Music Business.” Not any more. The Copyright Law allows artists to regain the rights to their music thirty-five years after they signed them away to a record company or music publisher.
Beginning in 2013 many very popular musicians will be able to regain the rights that they signed away as young musicians in 1978: Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen; Boston, Foreigner, Steve Miller, Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Cars, Kenny Rogers and Van Halen are among the 2013 class. Not a bad line-up of musicians whose songs are still selling as classics.
Thanks to internet technology much of the “Music Business” assets have been made available for “free” and now the artists themselves can reclaim their full rights or renegotiate a new contract with much more favorable terms.
Looks like this might pull the plug on the “Music Business”.
But, wait a second. The “Music Business” will not give up without a dragged-out legal fight. They hope to litigate the concept of “Termination Rights” all the way to the United States Supreme Court. That will take years. With these classic pop artists mostly in their sixties and seventies, I hope that they can live long enough to get back the rights to their music.