Duran Duran loses High Court battle over US copyrights to songs
Published 02/12/2016 | 10:14
Members of the pop group Duran Duran have lost a High Court battle over US rights to some of their most famous songs.
They failed to fight off a bid by major publishers Gloucester Place Music, ultimately owned by US business Sony/ATV, to prevent them terminating copyright agreements related to their first three albums.
A judge ruled English laws of contract barred them from seeking to reclaim rights over their own works.
The ruling is being seen as a test case which could affect many other UK songwriters who may want to end long-standing contracts which allow a music publishing company to exploit their work.
It came as a blow to group members Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor and John Taylor and former member Andrew Taylor.
Gloucester Place Music Ltd argued in court they had breached music publishing agreements by serving notices to terminate the grant to the company of US copyrights in their first three albums - Duran Duran, Rio and Seven And The Ragged Tiger - plus A View To A Kill, the Bond film title track.
The notices were served under US copyright laws which give songwriters "an inalienable right" to call for a reversion of copyright after 35 years.
Gloucester Place lawyers contended the group members' agreements are governed by English laws of contract and prevent them seeking to reclaim copyright.
Mr Justice Arnold agreed.
He said the arguments were "finely balanced" but in the end "not without hesitation, I have come to the conclusion that the (Gloucester Place) interpretation of the agreements is the correct one".
He added: "I conclude that (the group members) have acted in breach of the agreements by serving the notices, or, where they have not yet taken effect, will do so if they are not withdrawn."
The case is of wide importance because other UK songwriters have signed similar agreements with the big publishing companies.
When the case was heard last month at London's High Court, Rhodes was among group members present and described the Gloucester Place legal action as "a cynical attempt to deny us the opportunity offered to all songwriters in the US, to reclaim their copyrights after 35 years".
He said: "US copyright law clearly states that songwriters are permitted to apply for a reversion of their copyrights after a 35-year period.
"This provision was instigated to help rebalance the often unfair deals which artists sign early in their careers when they have little choice to try to get their first break, with no negotiating power and virtually no understanding of what their copyrights really mean for the future.
"When we registered a request, in 2014, for the reversion of our eligible copyrights in America, we understood it to be a formality.
"Regrettably, Sony/ATV have decided to challenge our rights under the premise of a contractual technicality in the UK and have elected to take legal action against us.
"We felt we had absolutely no choice but to stand up for ourselves, and indeed all other artists, who are likely to suffer similar circumstances."
None of the group members were in court as the judge, sitting in the High Court Chancery Division, announced the law was on the side of the claimant publishers.
The judge concluded that the language of the copyright agreements made by the group members with Gloucester Place "would have conveyed to a reasonable person having the relevant background knowledge that the parties' intention was that the 'entire copyrights' in the compositions should vest, and remain vested, in the claimant for the 'full term' of the copyrights.
"That implicitly precludes the group members from exercising rights under US law which have the result that the claimant's ownership of the copyrights is brought to an end prior to their expiry."