Duran Duran Loses Case, Brought in Britain, Over American Copyrights

Judge Richard Arnold found, "not without hesitation," that "any termination notices filed by the band were voided by these provisions in their contract."
Duran Duran

A decision from the U.K. High Court of Justice today has ruled against Duran Duran over the band's attempt to reclaim, stateside, the publishing copyrights on over three dozen songs, including some of their most well-known hits like "Hungry Like the Wolf."

United States copyright law allows for the authors of works to terminate copyrights they had assigned, usually to a publisher (in Duran Duran's case, the company Tritec Music Ltd., now Sony/ATV), after a period of 35 years, a provision designed to give artists a stab at receiving payment in the late life of their work. In 2014, Duran Duran attempted to take advantage of that provision, which in turn generated a lawsuit against them and the band members' various holding companies.

Sony Music, which refused to comment to Billboard on the decision, 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 (U.K.-based) publishing company, essentially making the copyright term on the band's songs subject to the U.K.'s terms, which is for the life of the artist plus 70 years.

Judge Richard Arnold found, "not without hesitation," that "any termination notices filed by the band were voided by these provisions in their contract."

However, despite a passionate response in the U.K. to the decision, U.S.-based copyright-termination expert Lisa Alter of Alter, Kendrick & Baron characterizes the decision as "very, very limited," due to the ex parte nature of the case, which prevented the parties from citing experts on U.S. copyright law, meaning the case centered solely on the question of contract breach by Duran Duran.

"Over the years," Alter tells Billboard, "there have been many, many contracts made outside of the United States, under local law, where songwriters or their heirs have successfully served notice of termination. In the U.S., any effort to circumvent that would be deemed void because the termination right was inalienable."

In a statement on the news, Duran Duran expressed its deep disappointment at the decision, arguing that "this flies in the face of a U.S. federal statute, which prevents a contract being used to avoid returning rights to the creators."

The group's singer, Simon Le Bon, continued, asking: "What artist would ever want to sign to a company like Sony/ATV, as this is how they treat songwriters with whom they have enjoyed tremendous success for many years?"

This article first appeared on Billboard.com.

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