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August 15, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Since their release in 1978, hit albums like Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Billy Joel’s “52nd Street,” the Doobie Brothers’ “Minute by Minute,” Kenny Rogers’s “Gambler” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” have generated tens of millions of dollars for record companies. But thanks to a little-noted provision in United States copyright law, those artists — and thousands more — now have the right to reclaim ownership of their recordings, potentially leaving the labels out in the cold.
posted by philip-random (29 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Won't someone think of the labels?!?
posted by Mick at 10:23 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Prince has been trying to get his masters away from Warner Bros. for years. And his first record came out in 1978...
posted by Trurl at 10:27 AM on August 15, 2011


from article: “‘We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,’ said Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America, a lobbying group in Washington that represents the interests of record labels. As the record companies see it, the master recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are ‘works for hire,’ compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees.”

Ah, so now we see just how much the RIAA really cares about recording artists. That is, not at all.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 AM on August 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


Huh - I guess this means I shouldn't feel so bad about having torrented One Nation Under a Groove. Thanks for easing my conscience!
posted by symbioid at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2011


Won't someone think of the labels?!?

Okay, I'll think of the labels.

...Thinking...

Done!

FUCK 'EM!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:42 AM on August 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Must be some fun times in studio offices right about now. Their ship is sinking from thousands of tiny holes that you can only plug with lawyers and money, of which there is increasingly little. I can foresee a day when desperate, coke addled record execs will hole up in their offices with the last of their master tapes and gallons of gasoline, threatening to burn everything if anyone comes through the reception area.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:44 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


As the record companies see it, the master recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are ‘works for hire,’ compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees.”

I really really hope they stick with this "but these musicians were our employees, so the stuff is ours!" line of reasoning, and I hope the musicians respond en masse by demanding back-pay for benefits and insurance and all that stuff they never got.
posted by jbickers at 10:45 AM on August 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Ah, so now we see just how much the RIAA really cares about recording artists. That is, not at all.

It is not called the Recording Artists Association of America.
posted by spicynuts at 10:53 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really hope this works out in the artists' favor. I have no problem with a portion of the money I give for music going to the apparatus that brought it to me -- production, printing, advertising, all that. I figure that's fair. But for MOST of it to go to all that apparatus, with the artist making only a minor portion of it, has always annoyed me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:00 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, so now we see just how much the RIAA really cares about recording artists. That is, not at all.

Some recommended reading: Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business (1991).

It basically paints a picture wherein the music biz, in its pre-digital glory days, was a playground for old school gangsters (and their friends), and their less than subtle ways of doing business.

From Publishers Weekly:
English rock group Pink Floyd was one of the hottest bands in 1980, with an LP shooting up the charts and a concert tour that sold out within hours. But the group was unable to get airplay for its latest single, at least not without engaging the services of a nascent breed of freelance promoters whose practices ushered in a new era of payola. These promotors, dubbed "indies," used illegal methods and had suspected mob connections. That the recording industry not only tolerated but embraced the indies is indicative of the questionable tactics now employed in this high-stakes arena [...] At its center is industry leader CBS records, whose president Walter Yetnikoff is depicted as a bully of Machiavellian proportions whose style set the tone throughout the business in the '80s.

posted by philip-random at 11:09 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


At its center is industry leader CBS records, whose president Walter Yetnikoff is depicted as a bully of Machiavellian proportions whose style set the tone throughout the business in the '80s.

It was the 80s...EVERY industry was led by bullies of Machiavellian proportions.
posted by spicynuts at 11:19 AM on August 15, 2011


Following on philip-random, check out Me The Mob and the Music by Tommy James, he of the Shondells. (Discussed on youtube).
posted by IndigoJones at 11:24 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


yea, I actually worked for CBS recs in those days (late 70s/80s). These guys were serious thugs in every sense of the word - and quite frankly, I've had little indication it's a whole lot different today in the trenches of the labels. A major label deal is as much a Faustian lottery ticket as ever before - if you win: you lose. And 40 years later people in community blogs can debate whether you or your family will ever get the rights back to your music. Good fucking luck.

The RIAA is a lobby group for the labels - is there some confusion about that?
posted by victors at 11:41 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh - I guess this means I shouldn't feel so bad about having torrented One Nation Under a Groove. Thanks for easing my conscience!

Who says a funk fan can't have torrented music?
Who says a torrented band can't have their funk music?
posted by Hoopo at 11:43 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


check out Me The Mob and the Music by Tommy James, he of the Shondells.

Thanks for that. I've always wondered what the story was behind Tommy James. A handful of HUGE HITS (and damned good songs at that) but, unlike pretty like everybody else who ever had even a single gold record back in the day, you never never really heard his story.
posted by philip-random at 11:51 AM on August 15, 2011


Amazing that the NYT can write an article so long that says so little. This could have used a lot more depth for the wordage.
posted by Ardiril at 11:51 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


jbickers writes "I really really hope they stick with this 'but these musicians were our employees, so the stuff is ours!' line of reasoning, and I hope the musicians respond en masse by demanding back-pay for benefits and insurance and all that stuff they never got."

Also it would seem the government might want to look at payroll taxes and other deductions that employers are required to pay and which it would be illegal to make employees pay on their own behalf. There is all sorts of shady accounting that goes on that go against these being works for hire.
posted by Mitheral at 12:09 PM on August 15, 2011


Billion dollar corporations with million dollar lobbyists vs independent artists...somehow i fee like i've seen this movie before. Regardless of the law, the money wins everytime...
posted by chitown at 12:19 PM on August 15, 2011


I can think of 10-20 albums from the '70s right off the top of my head that I would joyfully pay for today (even though I already have the music) if I knew all of the money was going to the artists and none to the labels. Can't you? Fight on, dudes.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:41 PM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is really not very different from the book publishing business - they want minimal risk, and maximum return, the author is not much more than VAM (value added meat).

A few years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to do an ebook on a tech topic close to my heart, so I contacted a few publishers (I'm a published author with some name recognition, so it wasn't exactly cold calling). Of the three, only one had any interest, and they made me a wonderful offer - after I was finished writing, editing and laying out the book, they would be happy to give me 25% of the net profit. In other words, they would do little more than stick my finished work on their site for a 75% stake. They can burn in the same hell as the record labels, buncha rotten crooks.
posted by dbiedny at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2011


You know, it has been said time and time again, but I'll say it again: the finest value of the user-generated content internet site model is that there is a huge, absolutely huge pool of people capable of creating wonderful works, but either unwilling to put up with the standard distribution methods or unable to get their attention.
posted by davejay at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2011


Prince has been trying to get his masters away from Warner Bros. for years. And his first record came out in 1978...
Not to derail the thread, but I'd be afraid that if Prince got his masters, he'd destroy them or otherwise make them unavailable. His indoctrination in Jehovah's Witnesses has made him exceptionally critical of his freaky earlier work.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:01 PM on August 15, 2011


While the artists are likely to make some progress on getting rights back, it seems very unlikely they'll get the actual masters back. That piece of this is probably a no-win.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:06 PM on August 15, 2011


They can burn in the same hell as the record labels, buncha rotten crooks.

So did you self publish or do you now have 100% of nothing instead of 75% of something?
posted by spicynuts at 3:30 PM on August 15, 2011


Sorry.... 25% of something
posted by spicynuts at 3:31 PM on August 15, 2011


Record companies, publishing companies, there'll barely be any room left for the telephone sanitizers on the "B" Ark at this rate.
posted by joannemullen at 8:27 PM on August 15, 2011


Related article from today: A Village Person Tests the Copyright Law
posted by chavenet at 7:19 AM on August 17, 2011


RIAA:We believe the termination right doesn’t apply. . . because the records are “works for hire,” created by musicians who are, in essence, employees.

Independent copyright experts: [R]ecording artists traditionally pay for the making of their records themselves, with advances from the record companies that are then charged against royalties. They are also exempted from both the obligations and benefits an employee typically expects.

Artists who write, arrange, and perform their own material with a self-contained performance ensemble, such as Bruce Springsteen and The Doobie Brothers are one thing, but what about this:

Victor Willis -- the original lead singer of The Village People -- has filed papers under the termination provision to regain control over his share of “YMCA”.

The record companies are not denying that Willis wrote the lyrics to YMCA and 32 other Village People compositions, but say that the termination provision doesn't apply to him because he was employed as a "writer for hire" and therefore does not share ownership of the songs.

Record company lawyer:
The Village People were a concept group, created by my clients, who picked the people and the costumes. It was probably no different than the Monkees when they started. We hired this guy. He was an employee, we gave them the material and a studio to record in and controlled what was recorded. . .

Willis. .. is only one of several creators of a “joint composition” and a majority of writers must want termination for the claim to take effect. Willis was merely a translator or 'adapter of French songs' . . . originally written by my clients.
Willis' lawyer:
“Victor Willis does not speak French, so he could not have translated anything. And I dare you to go to Paris and find a YMCA.”
Willis had previously successfully sued the Sun Bowl and Hallmark cards, and now says he'll sue the Tampa Bay Rays for using his voice and image as stadium entertainment.

If Willis is successful here, I'd say similar sucess for artists like Springsteen, Prince, etc. is a pretty safe bet.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:24 AM on August 17, 2011


JINX!!!
posted by Herodios at 7:24 AM on August 17, 2011


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