Artists can't band together in Universal Music copyright class action 

Illustration shows Universal Music Group logo
Universal Music Group logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
  • UMG accused of ignoring musicians' termination notices
  • Individual musicians cannot represent larger class, court said

(Reuters) - A Manhattan federal court on Friday rejected a motion by a group of rock musicians to proceed with a class-action lawsuit against Universal Music Group and its Capitol Records subsidiary, which they accused of ignoring notices that they were reclaiming their copyrights from the label.

The musicians, including singer-songwriter Syd Straw and members of rock bands The Dickies and The Dream Syndicate, have unique situations that require separate lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said Friday.

They had hoped to represent a much larger class of artists who filed termination notices with UMG.

The musicians' co-lead attorney Roy W. Arnold of Blank Rome said in a statement that they were disappointed with the decision and are considering an appeal.

A representative for UMG did not immediately respond to request for comment.

A provision of U.S. copyright law allows artists to terminate agreements to transfer their copyrights and reclaim them after decades in some circumstances. Artists who signed contracts with UMG predecessors in the 1970s and 80s sued UMG in 2019 for allegedly rejecting their notices and continuing to sell their music without permission.

UMG argues the musicians cannot reclaim the copyrights because the songs were "works made for hire" for which the termination right does not apply.

Kaplan said Friday that the musicians could not represent a broader class of artists who sent termination notices to UMG with effective dates between 2013 and 2031.

Kaplan found that questions of whether each work was made for hire and every notice was valid were too fact-specific to justify a single class action.

A related lawsuit filed against Sony Music by musicians including former New York Dolls singer David Johansen has been paused since 2021 for settlement discussions.

The UMG case is Waite v. UMG Recordings Inc, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:19-cv-01091.

For the musicians: Roy W. Arnold, Greg Bordo, David Perry and Heidi Crikelair of Blank Rome; Evan Cohen and Maryann Marzano of Cohen Music Law

For UMG: Ariel Atlas, Rollin Ransom and Lisa Gilford of Sidley Austin; Richard Mandel and Thomas Kjellberg of Cowan Liebowitz & Latman

Read more:

1970s-era musicians sue Sony, UMG to reclaim song rights

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, for Reuters Legal. He has previously written for Bloomberg Law and Thomson Reuters Practical Law and practiced as an attorney. Contact: 12029385713