Take Your Music Back, Folks! ( Copyright Law 1976 )
(ThyBlackMan.com) I’m going to share with you something few record labels or publishing companies are going to tell you – it is literally about the end of the world as they know it. Even all the changes in the way people access and buy music are not going to affect the music industry as much as a little-known provision of the Copyright Law of 1976 is going to affect the industry next year. I’m talking about the literal transfer of billions of dollars in wealth back from the music industry powers back to music creators – songwriters, composers, arrangers, and lyricists.
Simply put, the Copyright Law of 1976 allows any songwriter, composer, arranger, or lyricist who assigned his or her work to a publisher from 1978 to the present to ask for his or her copyrights back 35 years after the work’s publication. Add 35 to 1978, and you get 2013.
So, if you published a song in 1978 and you’re not happy with what has been done with it, or, you’re not happy with how you are being compensated and you think you can do better, you can get your copyrights back, starting next year. You are due anytime between 2013 and 2018, the 40th year of the copyright term. Let it get to 2019, year 41, and you’re stuck – but now that you know better, why would you let that happen? Did your work get published in 1979? You can get your copyright back between 2014 and 2019. And so forth and so forth…
Now, here’s the thing – the Copyright Law of 1976 says you need to give your publisher a termination notice, and then there will be wrangling about when the song was actually published, and who the true author of the work was (if you wrote with other people and didn’t do some documents over who owns what part of the song, this will come up), and whether or not the record labels will try to say, if they first put your work out there, that your song is a “work for hire” and therefore not eligible… blah blah blah.
But don’t despair; all of the above is why you get five years to do this! And don’t worry: if your song is making even a little bit of money, some hungry intellectual property lawyer will help you, for a percentage, of course…
Believe me, as this whole reversion of copyrights to music creators takes place, there is going to be wrangling in high places between music industry bigwigs and Congress… the industry is not going to take the loss of 35 years of wealth lightly! Consider it: every single copyright published since 1978 CAN go back to the people who created it! Can you imagine the transfer of wealth that entails?
But while people wrangle and wrangle, I want you to consider: if you have a copyright from 1978 onward that is making money, why should you miss out on this transfer of wealth? Why should you, your family, and your community not benefit? Your copyright will be good for you and your family for 70 years after you pass on – that is, your talent could be feeding your children and grandchildren instead of those of some industry bigwig.
Of course, you would need to set yourself up as a self-publisher to handle your own copyrights; you’ll need to register your own copyrights and get your works re-registered with performing rights agencies to make sure you get the money your songs are generating, but it’s really not that hard to learn. Plenty of resources exist to walk you through those aspects of running your own music business life – if you need to bone up quickly, check my book at the bottom of the page! But, my point is, there are excellent resources at your fingertips!
The greatest transfer of wealth the music industry has ever seen is about to take place, starting next year – you CAN be on the receiving end in the coming years if you have copyrights dating from 1978 or later. If you have copyrights dating earlier than that, the reversion period is a much longer 56 years… that is, if you had things published in 1956, 2012 is your year! But if you had songs published in 1977, you’re going to have to wait a while… 2033 to be exact.
But, it never hurts to ask – if you have a song that has a copyright between 1956 and 1977, ask for your copyrights back anyway, and prepare your heirs to keep asking, and keep asking, and keep asking. Perhaps you can benefit from the tremendous momentum that is going to start next year, as copyrights and wealth-creating opportunities begin to come back to music creators from the music industry!
Finally, a closing thought – this article was inspired by a commenter on my previous article, “Black People, Occupy Your Music.” Hoodgirl in her comment wrote of the successful struggle of the father of one of her clients, who successfully documented every piece of music he had owned so his eldest daughter could win control of her father’s copyrights and make bank every time her father’s music is played. It took two decades of struggling, but a father’s genius and a daughter’s perseverance means their family is benefiting from the results.
After 2013, regaining control of many copyrights won’t be as hard as in the inspirational story above – so why can’t it be YOUR family that benefits from the greatest transfer of wealth in music industry history? Ask, and y’all will receive – get ready to reclaim those copyrights, and get ready to take control of your own musical future! AND, BE SURE TO SPREAD THE WORD to every musician you know!
Staff Writer; Deeann D. Mathews
You may connect with this talented sister via twitter; Deeann D. Mathews.
She is also author of The Freedom Guide for Music Creators which can be purchased from the website of Marcus Bookstores, the oldest African American bookstore in the world: http://marcusfillmore.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/c8/.”