Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Duran Duran 'outraged' after losing High Court battle over US song rights

Published 02/12/2016

Duran Duran members (left to right) Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor attended court last month for their US copyright hearing
Duran Duran members (left to right) Nick Rhodes, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor attended court last month for their US copyright hearing

Members of pop group Duran Duran have reacted with shock and anger after losing a High Court battle over US rights to some of their most famous songs.

They expressed outrage after a judge ruled major publishers Gloucester Place Music, ultimately owned by US business Sony/ATV, were legally entitled to court orders preventing them serving notices to terminate copyright agreements related to their first three albums.

The notices were served under US copyright laws which give songwriters "an inalienable right" to call for a reversion of copyright after 35 years.

But Gloucester Place argued in court the group members had breached music publishing agreements by serving notices related to the three albums - Duran Duran, Rio and Seven And The Ragged Tiger - plus A View To A Kill, the Bond film title track.

Mr Justice Arnold, sitting in London, agreed with the publishers and ruled English laws of contract barred the group members from seeking to reclaim rights over their own works.

The judge said the language of the copyright agreements "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 (Gloucester Place) for the 'full term' of the copyrights."

The ruling came as a blow to group members Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor and John Taylor and former member Andrew Taylor.

Founding member and keyboardist Rhodes said: "We signed a publishing agreement as unsuspecting teenagers, over three decades ago, when just starting out and when we knew no better.

"Today, we are told that language in that agreement allows our long-time publishers, SonyATV, to override our statutory rights under US law.

"This gives wealthy publishing companies carte blanche to take advantage of the songwriters who built their fortune over many years, and strips songwriters of their right to rebalance this reward.

"We are shocked that English contract law is being used to overturn artists' rights in another territory. If left untested, this judgment sets a very bad precedent for all songwriters of our era and so we are deciding how properly to proceed."

Le Bon added: "What artist would ever want to sign to a company like SonyATV as this is how they treat songwriters with whom they have enjoyed tremendous success for many years?

"We issued termination notices for our copyrights in the US believing it simply a formality. After all, it's the law in America.

"SonyATV has earned a tremendous amount of money from us over the years. Working to find a way to do us out of our rights feels like the ugly and old-fashioned face of imperialist, corporate greed. I thought the acceptability of this type of treatment of artists was long gone - but it seems I was wrong.

"SonyATV's conduct has left a bitter taste with us for sure, and I know that other artists in similar positions will be as outraged and saddened as we are. We are hopeful this judgment will not be allowed to stand."

From the outset the Duran Duran legal action has been seen as an important 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.

The judge said the arguments on English contract law and how it affected the agreements was "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".

The judge ruled that, in seeking to take advantage of US laws on copyright termination, the group members had acted in breach of their agreements.

The judge concluded that the language of the copyright agreements made by them with Gloucester Place " 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".

Duran Duran representatives said publishers in the UK can benefit from the global success of some of their songwriters from the very beginning of their careers until 70 years after their death.

They said in a statement: "Nowadays, for good reason, songwriters very rarely accept such agreements that give huge corporations rights in perpetuity, but in the 1970s/80s this was not unusual.

"In 1976, in America, lawmakers ruled to redress this balance in favour of those in the artistic community, allowing US rights to revert after 35 years.

"That Duran Duran is entitled to get its early copyrights back in America after 35 years under US law is not contested.

"Yet English contract law is now being used by SonyATV to overturn these US rights.

"This flies in the face of a US Federal statute which prevents a contract being used to avoid returning rights to the creators, which is why Duran Duran is particularly surprised and disappointed by this judgment."

During the November 14-15 hearing of legal argument, Ian Mill QC, appearing for Gloucester Place, told the court: "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".

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph