Songwriter’s Revocation: How Writers Gain Freedom After 35 Years

27 02 2018


Carie Cartwright

When someone thinks of copyright, most imagine a budding songwriter growing his career by exercising his legal rights. However, for those trying to make it in the music industry, the reality is quite different. Most songwriters rely on publishers to get their songs out there to artists and record labels. To successfully be signed by a publisher, most songwriters are required to sign away the copyrights in their songs to the publisher. This significantly decreases the amount of royalties that songwriters receive. It also limits the decision-making power of songwriters over their works.

However, Congress anticipated such inequality between songwriters and publishers when it amended the Copyright Act through 17 U.S.C. § 203. Section 203 allows creators “to terminate grants of copyright assignments and licenses that were made on or after January 1, 1978 when certain conditions have been met. Notices of termination may be served no earlier than 25 years after the execution of the grant or, if the grant covers the right of publication, no earlier than 30 years after the execution of the grant or 25 years after publication under the grant (whichever comes first).” Thus, songwriters were given the right to reclaim their copyrights from publishers. Such a benefit was hardly felt at the time the law was promulgated. However, as of 2013, artists began to exercise their right to revocation by filing notices of termination.


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