Under Article 203 of the Copyright Act, enacted in 1976 and commonly known as the “35-year law,” recording artists have the right to terminate old grants of rights to record labels thirty-five years after the release of those works. On the 7th of January, 2019, Jim and William Reid sent a notice of termination to WMG for various singles, EPs, and five albums—Psychocandy, Darklands, Barbed Wire Kisses, Automatic, and Honey’s Dead. Most of the material in question had termination dates in January 2021; the other material will terminate next year.
An attorney for WMG’s label Rhino specified that the Reids and their former bandmate Douglas Hart agreed that WEA was the first owner of the copyright when they signed in 1985. “As a result, you never owned any copyrights in the recordings which you could terminate,” the lawyer told the Reid brothers.
“Our copyright law provides recording artists and songwriters with a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime chance to terminate old deals and regain their creative works after 35 years,” contests Evan S. Cohen, the attorney for The Jesus and Mary Chain. “This ‘second chance’ has always been a part of our copyright law….the label has refused to acknowledge the validity of any of the Notices of Termination served by The Jesus and Mary Chain, and has completely disregarded band’s ownership rights. Despite the law returning the US rights to the band, Warner Music Group is continuing to exploit those recordings and thereby willfully infringing upon our clients’ copyrights. This behavior must stop. The legal issues in this suit are of paramount importance to the music industry.”
Rhino’s attorney responded in a December 2020 letter to the band: “WMG is the owner of the copyrights throughout the world in each of the sound recordings comprising the Noticed Works, and the Notice is not effective to terminate WMG’s U.S. rights.”
Congress intended that songwriters and recording artists must have a “second chance” to own the US rights in and to their works. This law has been utilized by many recording artists, and represents a major legal issue in the music industry, generating a substantial amount of litigation. At present, Warner Music Group refuses to allow Jesus and Mary Chain to terminate those grants, including their landmark 1985 release Psychocandy.
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