Episode 058: This is Spinal Tap v. UMG Copyright Dispute – Understanding Copyright Termination Rights


Casey is an entertainment and digital media law attorney who helps influencers and creative entrepreneurs who struggle with navigating the legal side of their businesses and brands, specifically as it relates to contracts. She prides herself on helping creatives negotiate fair deals with Fortune 500 companies and leading entertainment brands, all while helping them build legally sound businesses that are built for generational wealth and impact. Here on the podcast, she normally does that through sharing the stories of successful entrepreneurs and influencers to help you learn from their mistakes. But occasionally, like today, switches things up and highlights popular culture. 

 

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Key Takeaways

  • You need good contracts, and a lawyer never hurts! This case is a prime example of people being taken advantage of for lack of knowledge and representation. These men should have been reaping the benefits of their creative work for decades, but they did not have the proper legal protections in place.

 

  • Be careful with work for hire agreements. As a creative, you always want to be very clear about the copyright agreements that you sign. Your number one priority should be to know how your intellectual property can be used and the rights you give to users.

 

  • It’s rarely too late to assert your rights. If you believe that your rights have been violated, seek legal advice!

 

Show Notes

 

[0:54] – Casey shares a few recaps from the last couple of weeks and some new resources and content to come.

 

[7:16] – Casey talks a little about why understanding Copyright Laws is important.

 

[7:16] – A brief background of the dispute:

 

  • This is Spinal Tap co-creators Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest sued Vivendi in 2016. The headline-making allegation was that despite decades of cult success, the creatives had just $81 in merchandising income and $98 in musical sales income from their work on the 1984 rockumentary. They alleged “Hollywood accounting” sins, Vivendi bungling trademark rights, and more. The four demanded hundreds of millions in damages plus hoped to reclaim Spinal Tap by exercising termination rights under the Copyright Act.

 

Related article: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/spinal-tap-creators-settle-rights-dispute-with-studiocanal

[11:58] – Understanding Copyright Termination Rights:

 

  • The Copyright Act permits authors or their heirs, under certain circumstances, to terminate the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of an author’s copyright in a work or of any right under a copyright.

 

  • These provisions are intended to protect authors and their heirs against unremunerative agreements.

 

  • If a work is made for hire, an employer is considered the author even if an employee created the work. The employer can be a firm, an organization, or an individual. The concept of “work made for hire” can be complicated.

 

Related Article:

 https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf

 

[14:42] – Specifics of the case, now:

 

  • The creators of This Is Spinal Tap have settled the copyright dispute with Universal Music Group. According to the settlement, Universal Music Group will continue to distribute Spinal Tap’s music, although “eventually the rights will be given to the creators. The parties look forward to making these beloved recordings available to existing and new Spinal Tap fans for years to come.” 

 

  • While the deal settles Spinal Tap’s dispute with UMG, the band’s complaints against StudioCanal and executive Ron Halpern have not been resolved. That complaint involves a breach of contract, fraud, and anti-competitive business practices related to the management of film rights.

 

[15:40] – Key Takeaways

 

  • Protect yourself from the beginning! Understand the contracts you use!
  • Be careful with work for hire agreements.
  • It’s rarely too late to assert your rights.

 

Resources:

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Clubhouse: @contractcasey

 

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