Duran Duran loses legal US copyright battle (because they are a British band)

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Duran Duran has lost a High Court fight to reclaim the US rights to some of their backs catalogue (including the albums “Duran Duran”, “Rio” and “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” but also the 1985 James Bond tune “A View to a Kill”). Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor, John Taylor and former member Andrew Taylor were all involved in the legal action.

Bad news for the Duran Duran headquarters, but good news for Sony/ATV who owns Gloucester Place Music Ltd (formerly part of EMI Music Publishing). It all depends how you look at it of course. The band lost the fight after Sony/ATV’s lawyers used English contract law to overturn their US rights.

The group had argued in 2014 that US copyright laws gave them the right to call for a reversion of copyright after 35 years. That 35-year rule in America gave artists from the late 1970s onwards a chance to escape their old contracts and claim back ownership of their copyright. And although US artists successfully got hold of their copyright ownership, it seems now it’s a little bit more complicated for British acts. Their move in generated a lawsuit against them and the band members’ various holding companies.

Sony/ATV argued that the original publishing agreements between the band’s members and their publishing company made those agreements subject solely to British law, and that the contracts also reverted any stateside copyrights back to the (UK-based) publishing company, essentially making the copyright term on their songs subject to the UK’s terms. Currently, publishers in the UK can benefit from the global success of some of their songwriters from the very beginning of their careers until 70 years after their death.

Duran Duran released a statement saying that they are “particularly surprised and disappointed by this judgment”. Founding member and keyboardist Nick Rhodes said: “We signed a Publishing Agreement as unsuspecting teenagers, over three decades ago, when just starting out and when we knew no better. Today, we are told that language in that Agreement allows our long-time publishers, SonyATV, to override our statutory rights under US law. This gives wealthy publishing companies carte blanche to take advantage of the songwriters who built their fortune over many years, and strips songwriters of their right to rebalance this reward. We are shocked that English contract law is being used to overturn artists’ rights in another territory. If left untested, this judgment sets a very bad precedent for all songwriters of our era and so we are deciding how properly to proceed.”

Simon Le Bon added: “What artist would ever want to sign to a company like SonyATV as this is how they treat songwriters with whom they have enjoyed tremendous success for many years. We issued termination notices for our copyrights in the US believing it simply a formality. After all, it’s the law in America. SonyATV has earned a tremendous amount of money from us over the years. Working to find a way to do us out of our rights feels like the ugly and old-fashioned face of imperialist, corporate greed. I thought the acceptability of this type of treatment of artists was long gone – but it seems I was wrong. SonyATV’s conduct has left a bitter taste with us for sure, and I know that other artists in similar positions will be as outraged and saddened as we are. We are hopeful this judgment will not be allowed to stand.”

It’s expected that some more UK acts will start questioning their rights after Duran Duran has now hit a legal brick wall.

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