The Golden Oldies – Recapturing Pre-1978 Copyrights

We have covered several topics on recapturing copyrights here at Lawyer 4 Musicians (see Recapture Basics and Heir’s Rights), as the clock started for copyright owners to terminate a record label or publisher’s grant of rights in 2013. But what if you granted the rights to your copyright before the Copyright Act came into effect (before 1978)? Are they lost for forever? What if I am an heir who has inherited hundreds of songs that are being controlled by someone else? Never fear, with just a gentle tweak in termination timelines, the Copyright Act addresses recapturing of copyrights pre-1978.

Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act allows the copyright owner or his or her heirs to recapture a grant of their copyrights starting on the 56th year from when the copyright was originally registered. Why is it 56 years instead of 35 like post 1978 copyrights? Glad you asked…A little history for you . . . prior to the enactment of the Copyright Act, a copyright was split in two consecutive 28-year periods (this means you could own a copyright for 28 years and then renew it for an additional 28 years) for a grand total of 56 years. Once the Copyright Act was enacted amendments were passed to extend pre-1978 copyrights for an additional 19 years and then again another 20, totaling a whopping 95 years (28+28+19+20). Section 304(c) allows copyright owners or their heirs to recapture for the remaining 39 years that were added by the amendments, (with a few rare exceptions).

The rest of the recapturing maze is the same as post-1978 copyrights . . . simple right? Sort of. The copyright owners or their heirs have a 5-year termination window after the 56th year during which the grant of rights may be terminated. But in order to exercise the termination, the owner must provide written notice to the grantee with an effective termination date falling in the termination window. The notice must be served between 10 and 2 years prior to the effective termination date. Here is an example:

Copyright Registered: June 15, 1950

Termination Window: June 15, 2006 – June 15, 2011

(1950 + 56 years = 2006 + 5 year window = 2011)

Now the tricky part . . . the notice is dependent on the date you want the termination to occur. If you take the above example and want the termination to be effective on January 1, 2010, the termination notice needs to be given to the grantee after January 1, 2000 (later than 10 years before) and before January 1, 2008 (prior to 2 years before). The notice needs to be signed by the owner or if the owner is deceased, those entitled to more than 50% of the copyright interest (see Heir’s Rights article). Then the notice needs to be recorded in the Copyright Office prior to the effective termination date.

A bit complicated, but if you can do the math and send the letter those copyrights are as good as yours! And, of course, we are here to help. Just ask!

Stay tuned for more posts on Lawyers 4 Musicians, after a long hiatus we are back, keeping you updated on all the ins and outs of the music biz!

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