"some music was meant to stay underground..."


Good News For Old Bands?

Photo of Black Sabbath

Band Photo: Black Sabbath (?)

Let’s go back to 1978: Black Sabbath released “Never Say Die!” in September of that year. There’s another thing that happened in the world that wasn't nearly as unconventionally cool, but that Black Sabbath might find really cool 35 years later. In the United States, a massive piece of government legislation went into effect called the Copyright Act of 1976. Before I tell you why that has any meaning at all to the godfathers of heavy metal and other bands from 1978 on, I’ll give you a rundown of what copyrights are.

A song isn’t just useful for banging your head to or for inspiring thought. A song is a piece of intellectual property, and just like the Gibson SG guitars Tony Iommi uses to both advance the metal genre and wow people into buying, songwriters can use their creations to get business and further the world of art.

In the United States, when you write a song and you put it in a “fixed medium,” like writing it down on paper or recording the music, the United States says you have a copyright in that song, which allows you to claim it as yours and control it for a period of time.

In this Copyright Act, all copyrights from January 1st, 1978 onward were given “termination rights” unless they were “works made for hire.” When most bands join a record label, they give the label a portion of their rights so that the label can choose what to do with their songs and act on it.

However, these “termination rights” now allowed them to file to get their rights back from the label after 35 years. This is what’s good for Black Sabbath. As long as they file for termination two years before they want them back, they might be able to get them back and own their songs entirely again.

Here’s the thing, though – While under contract with a label, are you considered an employee of the label, hired to make songs? That’s the big question, because the answer will determine if you get your shit back or not.

Let’s take Ozzy for example. If he is legally considered an employee of the label, the songs he writes while with the label will be called “works made for hire,” and owned entirely by the label. If he’s not, then he could be considered an independent contractor for the label. If the label owns the song, then Ozzy has no chance of getting the songs back.

This year, copyright holders with copyrights from 1978 are eligible to file to get their songs back in 2013. A few big names already have, but most of the major labels aren’t having it and are sticking to their guns that the songs are ineligible as works made for hire.

It’s up to lawyers to figure this all out at some point, because the labels don’t look like they want to settle out of court over this right now. On one hand, if the labels win, things will stay the same and the songwriters will only see their cut of the money from their recordings. On the other hand, if the writers win, they’ll be able to do what they want with full creative control of their recordings and they’ll be seeing more money out of it.

It’s a fight for control – Who should rightfully own a song? What do you think will come of this, since more and more bands will have the option to get their rights back each year after this? Will the major labels lose one more foothold in a business that’s quickly abandoning them in favor of independents?

Personally, I hope the writers win this one. A lot of music business fat cats have been riding high on dough from writers that aren't even associated with their labels anymore. A lot of times, labels will put out "Best Of" albums, without the writer's consent, leeching off of the band's popularity even though the band is no longer associated with the label. Sure, the band sees some money from this as well, but how much? Not as much as the label.

The good thing for us loyal metal fans is that this doesn’t affect us one bit. We’ll be getting what we want and how we want it from the place we want it from, because we have the power to buy or not buy something and businesses have to adapt to that. What’s in question here is who is going to get it to us.

Progressivity_In_All's avatar

Frank Serafine is an avid writer, music producer, and musician, with five albums to his name. While completely enamored with metal, he appreciates a wide range of music. He also works full-time at the American-based performing rights organization, SESAC.

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7 Comments on "Good News For Old Bands?"

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Gytrash's avatar


1. Gytrash writes:

Good article... I see it being difficult for all but the biggest of artists to fight a label on this matter. I'll be a battle of big wallets, as both sides have a lot to lose. However if a big artist win sets up precedent then things could look more hopeful for all songwriters. Either that or some class action, but this is less likely, as I assume all artists contracts are slightly different and would need to be treated individually.

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 8:35 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Smash_Grimlock's avatar


2. Smash_Grimlock writes:

This was a really great article and I'm sure from this year forward we will be getting a lot of new and interesting news articles on bands working to claim their music back. I definately believe that it should be the artists property, but at the same measure, a big part of the reason why that property became so lucrative is because of the work put forth by the label. I'm not defending the labels at all, merely stating that which i see. labels definately rape their artists in this regard, but the whole problem is that its not been changeable until now... the label manufactures a superstar to create a cash cow for the sake of healthy business...the artist allows it to happen for the exposure of their art, which they believe in...when the artist is powerful enough (given they have the longevity to last for 35 years) they begin to think business wise as well and want their music back. Some form of discordance is going to arise when business meets art...

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:22 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
zMETALlica's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

3. zMETALlica writes:

great article! more about the biz needs to see the light of day in laymens terms!

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 3:02 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Speaking of Black Sabbath... writes:

NEW ALBUM FROM THE ORIGINAL LINEUP PLEASE!!!! Never Say Die SUCKED, and Ozzy's retarded if he thinks the band can't record something better than that! They need to all come together and make an album before one of them keels over and croaks! MASTERS OF METAL, PLEASE COME BACK!

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 4:09 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar


5. Blindgreed1 writes:

Only problem I see with this is $haron getting her fat greasy fingers on Ozzy's solo stuff and selling to the highest bidder. I don't ever wanna hear Over The Mountain used to advertize a breakfast cereal or the likes.

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 4:16 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
TheIronMan's avatar


6. TheIronMan writes:

Oh so that's how it works.

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 6:15 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Rychemn's avatar


7. Rychemn writes:

Absolutely a great article.....I believe sh#t like this is what killed the band "Boston"...and then when they finally do put out another album, it sucked royaly and they were never the same......also, excellent point BG (as always with you)......but I was thinking maybe Sharon would use that song in a beer commercial...(Busch beer for example...please...I still can't hear rock and roll by Zeppelin to this day without thinking about cadillac....sheesh!!!!! give me a break!!!)

# Aug 19, 2011 @ 6:25 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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