On Dec. 20, 2016,
we wrote about a decision out of England's High Court of
Justice finding that members of music group Duran Duran breached
their agreements with a music publisher by filing notices to
terminate assignments of copyrights in 37 of their songs under
section 203 of the Copyright Act. That decision shocked much
of the legal community, given the inalienability of that
termination right under the express terms of the Copyright Act.
As we now know from a complaint filed by Sir Paul McCartney
earlier this week, the Duran Duran decision is also causing trouble
for the legendary musician, who, himself, seeks to reclaim his
According to the complaint, starting in October 2008, McCartney
began filing notices of termination of the copyrights he assigned
to at least two music publishers in the 1960s and 1970s, under
section 304 of the Copyright Act (section 203's sister
provision for pre-1978 works). The songs McCartney seeks to reclaim
are some of the Beatles most famous, including "Love Me
Do," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "All You
Need Is Love." The terminations were to become effective
starting October 2018.
For eight years, the publishing companies gave no indication
that they contested the efficacy of McCartney's termination
notices, he argues; but after the Duran Duran case, the publishing
companies may have changed tack. McCartney cites conversations and
correspondence with the executives of the publishing companies
during which it was insinuated that McCartney is similarly situated
to Duran Duran, and that decision may be used against him. When
pressed by McCartney's attorneys, the publishing companies
would respond that the termination notices were valid and would
become effective on the dates stated on those notices, but would
refuse to respond to the more important question – whether
they believed the notices breached their music publishing
agreements with McCartney.
Unable to rely on unclouded title to his rights, McCartney
brought an action for declaratory judgment that he did not breach
any contracts with the publishers by terminating the assignments.
An interesting question to consider is whether the complaint was
filed prematurely, as the first of the terminations does not come
into effect until October 2018. The publishers' response will
surely shed some light on that issue.
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