UK rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain is alleging that Warner Music Group (WMG) won’t terminate the copyright ownership of the band’s early works in spite of that material reaching its effective termination dates starting on January 8, 2021. Jim and William Reid, the two brothers who have led the group since founding it in 1983, filed the lawsuit today, June 14, in a California federal court.
The Reid brothers are seeking $2.5 million in damages for alleged copyright infringement and declaratory relief. They’re building their case around Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976, which allows authors of an original work to terminate grants of copyright ownership 35 years after the work’s original publication.
According to the lawsuit, the Reids sent a notice of termination to WMG for five of their albums on January 7, 2019, as well as some other loose singles and EPs. The albums include most of their most popular records, such as their 1985 debut Psychocandy, which features songs like “Just Like Honey” and “The Hardest Walk,” Darklands (1987), which features “April Skies,” and “Happy When It Rains,” their 1988 B-sides/rarities compilation album Barbed Wire Kisses, their 1989 record Automatic and their 1992 record Honey’s Dead. The rest of their catalog has yet to reach its legal termination dates.
An attorney for WMG’s Rhino label finally responded to the notices on December 2020, telling the Reids, “WMG is the owner of the copyrights throughout the world in each of the sound recordings comprising the Noticed Works, and the Notice is not effective to terminate WMG’s U.S. rights.”
According to Rhino’s attorney, the Reids and their former bassist Douglas Hart signed an agreement with WMG predecessor WEA in 1985 that stated that “WEA was the ‘maker’ of the Noticed Works and the first owner of the copyright in the Noticed Works.” The attorney adds, “As a result, you never owned any copyrights in the recordings which you could terminate.”
Evan S. Cohen, the Reids’ attorney, made a statement on the lawsuit, “Our copyright law provides recording artists and songwriters with a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime chance to terminate old deals and regain their creative works after 35 years. This ‘second chance’ has always been a part of our copyright law. In this case against WMG, the label has refused to acknowledge the validity of any of the Notices of Termination served by the Jesus and Mary Chain, and has completely disregarded band’s ownership rights. Despite the law returning the U.S. rights to the band, WMG is continuing to exploit those recordings and thereby willfully infringing upon our clients’ copyrights. This behavior must stop. The legal issues in this suit are of paramount importance to the music industry.”