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Former KC & The Sunshine Band member Richard Finch sues Sony Music Publishing in termination right dispute

By | Published on Monday 11 October 2021

Sony Music Publishing

Richard Finch – a founder member of KC & The Sunshine Band who co-wrote some of the group’s biggest hits – has sued EMI Longitude Music, part of Sony Music Publishing, in a bid to force the termination right under US Copyright law in relation to a stack of songs including ‘That’s The Way I Like It’.

That termination right allows music-makers who assign their copyrights to a business partner to terminate that assignment and reclaim their rights – albeit only in the US – after a set period of time. Under current US copyright law the termination right kicks in after 35 years.

Within the record industry there remains some dispute as to whether the termination right applies to record contracts, with many labels arguing that they are the default owners of any recordings made by artists they sign, so no assignment of copyright actually takes place, meaning there is no assignment to terminate. Though plenty of artists dispute this viewpoint and there are test cases against all the majors currently working their way through the courts.

However, on the songs side the termination right has proven less controversial, and songwriters have been routinely terminating old publishing contracts and reclaiming their rights for sometime now. Although even on the songs side, there are some technicalities that can get in the way.

Finch is trying to terminate a 1983 deal via which he assigned his share in the KC & The Sunshine Band songs he had co-written to the band’s lead singer – and the other co-writer of those works – Harry Wayne Casey. The two men had previously set up a publishing company together to control their rights, which in turn had done deals with a company called Sherlyn Music Publishing.

But – having fallen out with his former bandmate and songwriting partner – the 1983 deal saw Finch walk away from that company too, as well as giving up both his share in the KC & The Sunshine Band copyrights and his writer’s share in any royalties. Subsequent to that deal, Sherlyn Music Publishing was sold to Windswept Pacific Music Publishing, which was in turn bought by EMI Music Publishing, which was then itself later acquired by Sony Music Publishing.

Having unsuccessfully tried to have the 1983 agreement set aside in both 1985 and 2004 – arguing that the deal should not stand based on allegations of fraud and incapacity – Finch is now trying to employ the termination right to reclaim his share in the KC & The Sunshine Band songs in the US, having begun the administrative process to do just that in 2019. But, it seems, Sony/EMI argues that he doesn’t actually have a termination right.

On what basis it is making that argument isn’t clear, but it presumably relates to the slightly complicated series of deals that were done around the KC & The Sunshine Band songs in the 1970s and 1980s.

However, Finch’s lawyers argue in a new lawsuit, “this 1983 assignment to Casey is exactly the sort of transaction that may be terminated by the service of a notice of termination under section 203 of the Copyright Act. Finch made an unwise transaction in 1983, and, when the time came for Finch to have the opportunity [to] terminate that transfer pursuant to federal law, he did exactly that”.

Finch wants the court to confirm that he does, in fact, have a termination right over the 1983 assignment deal and – having completed the required administrative tasks – he now owns 50% of each of the nearly 100 works he co-wrote with Casey in the 1970s.