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Duran Duran bandmates must wait for judge's ruling in copyright case

Published 15/11/2016

Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor leave the Rolls Building in central London after a US copyright hearing
Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor leave the Rolls Building in central London after a US copyright hearing

Members of pop group Duran Duran will have to wait to hear whether they have won or lost a High Court battle over the US rights to some of their most famous songs.

The case is being seen as a test case which could affect many other UK songwriters.

Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor were at London's High Court as a judge said he would take time to consider his judgment.

A fourth group member, John Taylor, is in the US. Former member Andrew Taylor is also involved in the case but did not attend court.

In a hearing over two days, lawyers for Gloucester Place Music Ltd, which is part of EMI Music Publishing, asked Mr Justice Arnold to rule that the group members have 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 - ultimately owned by US business Sony/ATV - says the group members' agreements are governed by English laws of contract and prevent them seeking to reclaim copyright.

The case is of wide importance because other UK songwriters have signed similar agreements with the big publishing companies.

Ian Mill QC, appearing for Gloucester Place, said: "My clients entered into contracts and agreed to pay these artistes sums of money by way of royalties in return for which the artistes promised to give them rights to exploit, subject to the payment of those sums, for the full term of copyright."

Mr Mill argued that, by seeking to exercise their reversion rights, the group members were breaching their contracts under English law because they had agreed "that they will not seek to obtain a reversion".

Michael Bloch QC, appearing for the group, suggested there was no doubt that the publishers were eager "to keep on milking this particular cow in the US", and that was a measure of how profitable it had proven to be.

The QC suggested the publishers' "shameful" case was "as feeble as it is greedy".

He said if they were right "the English court may serve as an offshore haven for any of their ilk who wish to defeat the protective provisions of the US - the principal market for popular music in the English language - or any similar legislation elsewhere".

Outside court Rhodes said: "We sincerely hope that this cynical attempt to deny us the opportunity offered to all songwriters in the US, to reclaim their copyrights after 35 years, will be dismissed outright by the British courts.

"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."

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