You may have seen stories about a US$2.5 million lawsuit filed by the Jesus and Mary Chain against their former label, Warner Music Group. What is this all about?
The band is suing WMG for copyright infringement and declaratory relief. They claim that the label wouldn’t terminate its copyright ownership of the band’s Psychocandy album (released 1985) after the band filed a notice of termination.
This goes back to an American law known as Second 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976. At the risk of oversimplification, this law allows an artist to reclaim the copyright to their work–something that they would have given up when they signed their original contract with the label–after 35 years. Psychocandy is now 36 years old.
WMG says that the JAMC “never owned any copyrights in the recordings which you could terminate.” The group’s lawyer (who is an expert in this type of litigation) begs to differe.
So why should anyone care what the JAMC is doing? Because labels make TONS of money from their back catalogues and owning the copyrights to classic album is a huge source of income. If more acts insist on exercising their Second 203 rights, then you can see the issue. Labels will lost control and revenue.
If you want to go deeper, Pitchfork is on the story.