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Explaining How an Author Terminated a Movie Studio’s Copyright to “Terminator”

11 October 2019

From Pirated Thoughts:

“I’ll be back” said the author of the original Terminator movie. Gale Ann Hurd, the author of the original Terminator film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, has informed Skydance Media that it is terminating the grant of copyright to the work and seeks to reclaims the rights…but how?

Copyright law is complicated and the ins and outs can be incredibly confusing even to people who claim to specialize in the field. When someone creates a work (painting, screenplay, or photograph) they are deemed the owner of the work. There is one exception, if it is a work made-for-hire. A work made-for-hire comes in two forms: 1) you are paid by someone to create a work for them; or 2) the work is create in the normal course of business for an employer.

First, someone can be commissioned to create a work for someone else, like I am paying you to take a photograph of me and I will own the photograph. As long as the agreement is in writing before the photograph is taken, I own the rights instead of the photographer.

Second, if you create something in your everyday work life for your employer, they own it. For example, if I am a salaried reporter for the New York Times, the Times owns the copyright to any story that I may publish.

. . . .

If a work is a made-for-hire the original creator cannot ever regain the rights to the work. This is how many movie scripts and other stories are created. However, there is an exception.

If I independently create a work, meaning not as a work made-for-hire, I am the owner of the rights and I can do whatever I want with the work including transferring the rights to someone else. However, copyright law provides that after 35 years following publication and author can terminate the transfer and regain the rights to the original.

Gale Ann Hurd was the author of the Terminator film may back in the 80’s.

. . . .

In 1984, the Terminator film was published and here we are 35 years later and, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Hurd has informed the studio who now owns the film, Skydance Media, that is terminate the transfer of rights. Also terminated is the right to make derivative works such as sequels to the original Terminator.  The author must give two years before the termination takes effect and then all such exploitation of the work must cease in any way.

So what does this all mean for movie studios? Utter chaos perhaps as the loss of rights to make valuable sequels and prequels or just another settlement negotiation. Skydance will likely make Hurd a large monetary offer to retain the rights to the valuable franchise.

Link to the rest at Pirated Thoughts

And from The Future of Music Coalition:

Unlike most countries, the United States copyright law provides musicians and songwriters an opportunity to regain ownership of works that they transferred to outside entities, such as record labels and music publishers. Congress established this “second bite at the apple” for authors of creative works after a period of 35 years. “Termination of transfer” is not automatic, however, and there are certain steps creators must take to regain the rights to their works. This guide aims to shed more light on the process for the benefit of musicians and songwriters who are eligible to reclaim ownership of their creations.

As you read this guide, it is important to keep in mind that there are two copyrights in a piece of music: the composition copyright (think notes on paper) and the sound recording copyright (think sounds captured on tape or hard drive). Songwriters often enter agreements with publishers to “grant” their songwriting copyrights in exchange for up-front payment and/or the promise of circulation in the marketplace. Musicians (and bands) transfer their sound recordings to labels for similar reasons, including distribution, promotion and marketing. Authors of both copyrighted works can reclaim the copyrights to their original creations after a period of 35 years.

. . . .

Why do creators have this right?

It is often difficult to determine the worth of a creative work at the time of its creation. Because the value is unknown, musicians and songwriters will not be in the most advantageous position when negotiating what labels and publishers will pay for commercially exploiting their work. Thus, Congress made a policy decision to give authors an opportunity to regain ownership of their copyrights and entertain new, potentially more lucrative licenses for their work. Creators may also choose to re-transfer their copyright(s) under more favorable licensing terms. Consider also that changes in the marketplace can increase the range of potential uses for a piece of music, which may not have existed at the time of its creation. For example, few could have anticipated the explosion of console video games and “synch” opportunities. In addition, artists can now “go direct,” selling music directly to fans without the high barriers to entry common to the historic marketplace. There are surely new platforms for music that have yet to arrive, so it is important that artists have the ability to directly participate in revenue streams generated by potential new uses.

Section 203 of the Copyright Act permits authors (songwriters and recording artists) to terminate deals that they made transferring or licensing their copyrights after 35 years. Meaning, if you transferred your recording or song to a record label or publisher at the beginning of your career or licensed certain rights, you may be eligible to regain ownership or terminate the licenses after this period. Artists may have more leverage than they did at the time that they signed away their copyright(s), and using this leverage, artists could re-grant their copyrights in a better deal or recapture ownership for the purpose of licensing directly.

. . . .

Generally, any type of transfer or license that authors make with their copyright(s) can be terminated. This includes assignments (even such grants that purport to give someone else power over your copyright forever!) The grants that you can terminate apply only to transfers of copyrights; trademarks and other “related” non-copyright rights are not affected or terminable (e.g., if you transferred the trademark in your band name to your label, it will retain ownership of the trademark).

Link to the rest at The Future of Music Coalition

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff

2 Comments to “Explaining How an Author Terminated a Movie Studio’s Copyright to “Terminator””

  1. Songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant did a similar thing with their songs in the 1950s.

    “The Bryants were more than successful songwriters. They also established an influential benchmark for songwriters when, in 1957, they negotiated a 10-year deal with music publisher Acuff-Rose that returned to the Bryants all publishing rights for their songs at the end of the agreement — the first of its kind in Nashville.”
    –source unknown

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