Songwriters and Authors Unite to Protect Termination Rights

Issue May Affect As Many As 100,000, Including Authors Beverly Cleary, John Irving,
Tom Wolfe and Songwriter Charlie Daniels

 

 

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The Authors Guild and The Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) told the U.S. Copyright Office on Friday that there is an urgent need to eliminate a potential “gap” in termination rights granted under the Copyright Act. The joint filing, announced by Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken and SGA president Rick Carnes, was in response to a request for comments by the Office on the issue. The “gap,” if not addressed, might prevent as many as 100,000 creators from being able to exercise termination rights they – and Members of Congress – thought had effectively been granted to them under the law.

 

   

Scott Turow, President of the Authors Guild

  In establishing termination rights for creators – allowing them to end transfers of their copyrights to publishers after a set number of years– Congress established rules for terminations for both pre- and post-1978 works. However, because of a quirk in the drafting of the law, there may be an inadvertent gap for works governed by pre-1978 contracts that were not published or registered for copyright until 1978 or later.

“The legislative drafting error dates back to a major revision of copyright law in 1976,” said Aiken. “The potential problem is serious and pressing – the time to file thirty-five year termination notices for post-1978 works commences in 2011 – but it’s a technical problem that can be resolved with a straightforward legislative clarification.” Carnes added, “We simply need to make sure that, as a matter fairness, certain categories of works that may have fallen through the cracks in drafting the 1976 Act are now clearly included in the law.”

There are various scenarios in which confusion may arise under the law as currently written. Songwriters often sign exclusive agreements with music publishers covering the transfer of all songs written prospectively over a period of several years. For example, Charlie Daniels’ classic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” released on his band’s 1979 album, almost certainly was subject to a pre-1978 contract and might fall into the statutory “gap.” Moreover, nearly all books published in 1978 and most books published in 1979 were subject to pre-1978 contracts and therefore could fall within the suspected gap as well. Works such as John Irving’s “The World According to Garp,” published in 1978, and Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona and Her Mother” and Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff,” both published in 1979, are all likely to be in this category.

“Authors, particularly those early in their career, frequently have little or no bargaining power with publishers,” said Aiken. “The termination right effectively recognizes that imbalance, giving authors the power to renegotiate their contracts in the rare cases where a book has a commercial life far long than expected.”

The legislative record of the 1976 Copyright Act is clear in expressing Congress’ intent that termination rights be granted to all authors. According to the House and Senate Reports accompanying the legislation, “[a] provision of this sort is needed because of the unequal bargaining position of authors, resulting in part from the impossibility of determining a work's value until it has been exploited.” Both SGA and the Authors Guild were instrumental in fighting successfully for the inclusion of termination rights in the 1976 law.

“Our shared interests in the representation of the creative communities in our respective fields have prompted us to act together on this initiative, as we will in the future on other legislative matters of mutual concern” said Carnes. “Our organizations worked hard together in gaining termination rights for creators under the Copyright Act, and we continue to work together to ensure that all creators benefit from these hard-won gains.”

 

 

 

 

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