On Dec. 20, 2016, we wrote about a decision out of England’s High Court of Justice finding that members of music group Duran Duran breached their agreements with a music publisher by filing notices to terminate assignments of copyrights in 37 of their songs under section 203 of the Copyright Act. That decision shocked much of the legal community, given the inalienability of that termination right under the express terms of the Copyright Act.
As we now know from a complaint filed by Sir Paul McCartney earlier this week, the Duran Duran decision is also causing trouble for the legendary musician, who, himself, seeks to reclaim his copyrights.
According to the complaint, starting in October 2008, McCartney began filing notices of termination of the copyrights he assigned to at least two music publishers in the 1960s and 1970s, under section 304 of the Copyright Act (section 203’s sister provision for pre-1978 works). The songs McCartney seeks to reclaim are some of the Beatles most famous, including “Love Me Do,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “All You Need Is Love.” The terminations were to become effective starting October 2018.
For eight years, the publishing companies gave no indication that they contested the efficacy of McCartney’s termination notices, he argues; but after the Duran Duran case, the publishing companies may have changed tack. McCartney cites conversations and correspondence with the executives of the publishing companies during which it was insinuated that McCartney is similarly situated to Duran Duran, and that decision may be used against him. When pressed by McCartney’s attorneys, the publishing companies would respond that the termination notices were valid and would become effective on the dates stated on those notices, but would refuse to respond to the more important question – whether they believed the notices breached their music publishing agreements with McCartney.
Unable to rely on unclouded title to his rights, McCartney brought an action for declaratory judgment that he did not breach any contracts with the publishers by terminating the assignments. An interesting question to consider is whether the complaint was filed prematurely, as the first of the terminations does not come into effect until October 2018. The publishers’ response will surely shed some light on that issue.