Warner Music settles lawsuit with rock band The Jesus And Mary Chain over rights dispute

Warner Music and Scottish rock band The Jesus And Mary Chain have ended a copyright lawsuit filed in the US over the band’s attempt to win back the rights to their recordings.

The band’s members, brothers James and William Reid sued Warner Music Group in the US Central District Court of California in June 2021 as the music label allegedly refused to accept their termination notices filed in relation to their 1985 debut album Psychocandy and other recordings.

The Jesus and Mary Chain cited the Section 203 of the Copyright Act, commonly known as the 35-year law, which allows artists to terminate the assignment of rights to their recordings and music compositions to third parties 35 years after the publication of their work. 

The law is applicable to works released after 1977.

It was the same law that Missing You (1984) singer John Waite cited in his lawsuit against Universal Music Group. Waite is just among a number of artists that have proposed class actions against UMG and Sony Music Entertainment in recent years over the labels’ alleged refusal to allow them to reclaim ownership of their copyrights.

But the request to file a class action against UMG was recently rejected by a court in New York, meaning hundreds of artists will not be able to sue the label in a single case.

The Section 203 law is a successor to the Section 304(c) law that only covers musical works and not sound recordings that were registered before 1978. The law allows artists to recover their copyrights 56 years after the publication date. 

Paul McCartney in 2017 sued Sony/ATV Music Publishing over the rights to claw back some Beatles songs.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, in their 2021 lawsuit, claimed that Warner Music “stubbornly and willfully refused to comply” with the band’s notice of termination served pursuant to the 35-year law.

The Reid brothers filed their notice of termination with Warner Music in January 2019, and in December 2020, they received a statement from a Warner Music representative, saying the label “is the owner of the copyrights throughout the world in each of the sound recordings” comprising the Psychocandy album.

Warner Music added that JMC’s case should be decided under UK law as Section 203 only covers rights in the US, which Warner Music claims to own.

“Your attempt to terminate WMG’s rights in and to the [Psycochandy album] is without effect and will have no impact on WMG’s continued ownership and exploitation of the [album] in the US pursuant to its rights,” Warner Music was cited by JMC’s legal team as saying in its 2020 letter to the band.

As explained by Complete Music Update, many labels argue that Section 203 does not apply on the recordings side as record deals in the US are often work-for-hire agreements, making the label the default owner of any recording copyrights.

In the UK, labels that organize recording sessions for artists are also the default owner of the recording copyrights. CMU noted that WMG’s deal with JMC was signed in the UK, giving the label another argument for the case.

Most recently on March 2, the Reid brothers and Warner Music dismissed the case filed by the former after reaching an out-of-court settlement.

“Plaintiffs James Reid and William Reid [doing business as] The Jesus and Mary Chain and defendant Warner Music Group Corp., through their respective counsel of record, stipulate to dismissal with prejudice of this action in its entirety, with each party to bear its own costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees,” according to a court filing.

The details of the settlement were not disclosed, but Neema Amini, a lawyer for the band, told Reuters that the dispute “had been “amicably resolved,” without providing further details.

Music Business Worldwide

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