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Duran Duran given all clear to appeal reversion right ruling

By | Published on Tuesday 7 February 2017

Duran Duran

Duran Duran have welcomed a decision by judge Richard Arnold to allow them to take their legal battle with Sony/ATV over the US reversion right to the Court Of Appeal.

As previously reported, Duran Duran and Sony/ATV went to court last year, with the publisher ultimately winning. This test case seeks clarity on whether or not British songwriters who assigned copyrights in their songs to a British publisher under English contract law can reclaim those rights in the US by employing the reversion right contained within American copyright law.

Under the US copyright system, songwriters who assign their copyrights to a publisher can terminate that assignment – and claim back their rights – after 35 years. That termination or reversion right was added to American copyright law in the 1970s. Though the time period before termination is allowed was longer for copyrights that had already been assigned when the new law was passed, which means it’s only relatively recently that American songwriters have started terminating past publishing deals.

Due to how recently this has all kicked in, certain ambiguities around how the reversion right works haven’t been previously tested in court. That includes whether or not British songwriters – whose wider contracts are not subject to any termination right – can nevertheless employ the reversion right in the US, and take back rights in their songs in the lucrative American market.

When Duran Duran tried to claim back the US rights in their early songs – which were assigned to Gloucester Place Music, now a Sony/ATV subsidiary, in the early 1980s – the music publishing major said no such reversion was allowed under the terms of their English publishing contract. When the matter went to the High Court, the judge sided with the publisher. However, that decision will now be considered by the appeals court.

Plenty of other aging British songwriters are watching this case with great interest, given the precedent it could set over whether or not they too can reclaim the US rights in songs they assigned to a publisher for life of copyright 35 years ago. That, of course, includes Paul McCartney.

McCartney sued Sony/ATV in the US last month because the publisher – while not saying it will block his efforts to reclaim the US rights in his share of the Lennon/McCartney catalogue – has refused to confirm that it won’t. McCartney suspects the publisher is procrastinating, wanting to first see how the Duran Duran case works out.

Recognising that their legal battle with Sony/ATV could impact on the wider songwriter community, Duran Duran said this weekend: “[We] are particularly pleased to receive permission to appeal as the first instance decision impacts the wider creative community and particularly their songwriting peers around the world. In fact, since the judgment, even Sir Paul McCartney has sought to protect his US copyrights from interference from Sony/ATV, but initially through the US courts”.

Meanwhile the band’s Nick Rhodes added: “It was enormously disappointing that Sony/ATV decided to mount this aggressive and unexpected action against us to try to prevent the simple principles and rights afforded to all artists in America regarding their copyrights after 35 years. We are relieved and grateful that we have been given the opportunity to appeal this case because the consequences are wide reaching and profound for us and all other artists”.

He went on: “In his judgement Mr Justice Arnold stated that his decision was not made without hesitation; we were heartened by this sentiment because we felt it was an acknowledgement that something was truly flawed about the premise and reality of what is at stake. We remain hopeful that the ultimate outcome will be fair and measured to take into account and support our case and all artists’ rights”.