Dwight Yoakam Sues Warner Music to Reclaim Rights to Recordings

Dwight Yoakam
Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

Dwight Yoakam has become the latest musician — perhaps the biggest name yet — to go the court with the claim that his record label refuses to accept how copyright law allows him to reclaim rights to his work. On Monday, the country music star filed suit against Warner Music Group in California federal court.

According to the complaint, Yoakam sent notices of termination pursuant to Section 203 of the Copyright Act. That law, enacted in the mid-1970s, allows authors to cancel copyright grants and regain rights after waiting a period of time — 35 years for newer works. The provision has become a hot area of litigation for songwriters and recording artists. Over in New York, Universal and Sony are facing a pair of class actions from musicians.

In the past, record labels have sometimes argued that certain recordings are ineligible for termination as "works made for hire." Other times, a notice of termination has amounted to an invitation to renegotiate royalty rates.

Yoakam's suit states that Warner subsidiary Rhino proposed new deal terms in the face of his notice, but that the label wouldn't give him definitive word that he had successfully recaptured work, in particular his recordings of “Honky Tonk Man” and “Miner’s Prayer.” Yoakam attempted to follow up with more notices and even sent a draft version of the complaint only to be told that certain works would be "taken down."

That's not good enough for Yoakam, who now seeks a declaration of his termination as well as damages for Warners' alleged copyright infringement. He's represented by attorney Richard Busch at King & Ballow, who comments, "The termination rights Congress gave to artists like Mr. Yoakam to gain control back over their intellectual property are essential rights that should not be interfered with or delayed. We did not want to have to file this lawsuit, but we were forced to so for all of the reasons set forth in detail in the Complaint."