7 February 2019Copyright

Musicians file class action copyright suit against Sony Music

A group of musicians have filed a class action complaint against Sony Music alleging that the company unlawfully stopped them reclaiming their copyright.

The complaint was filed on Tuesday 5 February at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York by David Johansen, John Lyon and Paul Collins. The three musicians brought the copyright infringement suit against Sony on behalf of “hundreds of other musicians” in the same situation, the filing said.

According to the musicians, Sony violated a clause in the Copyright Act which allows authors of music a second chance to reclaim copyright from “unwise grants made early on in their careers”, by refusing to give them ownership of music they recorded under contract for Sony.

The second chance concept allows recording artists to serve a “Notice of Termination” to revoke the grant of rights made to a record label 35 years after the publication of the relevant recordings.

Johansen, Lyon and Collins alleged that they had, along with hundreds of other recording artists, served notices of termination to Sony, but Sony had “routinely and systematically refused to honour them”.

In their complaint, the artists said the purpose of the second chance concept was to protect authors because of the “impossibility of an author determining his or her work’s prior value until it has been exploited”.

The filing said Johansen and Lyon entered into a recording agreement with Sony in 1978. Collins entered into a recording agreement with the company in 1979. In 2015, all three artists served notices of termination to Sony, which refused to honour them, the filing alleged.

In its reasons for refusing to honour the notice of termination, Sony allegedly said the recordings were created by artists under contract with Sony and are therefore were “works made for hire” because of contractual language found in the Sony recording agreement.

As a result, Sony refused to allow artists to take control of the recordings or enter into an agreement with a different record label, the complaint said.

The musicians said that in August 2017, counsel for the musicians and Sony had a telephone conference, in which Sony stated that “under absolutely no circumstances” would it “ever agree that a notice of termination was valid or effective”.

It also denied the artists the benefits of ownership in the US to the relevant sound recordings, the complaint said.

But, the artists argued that they should be awarded the rights to their work after the period of 35 years. They said Sony has “continued to exploit the recordings” and engaged in wilful copyright infringement.

The group added: “Sony has effectively destroyed the very salability of the recordings that the Copyright Act expressly guarantees.”

The musicians are seeking declaratory relief and up to $150,000 in damages.

WIPR has contacted Sony for comment.

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