Members of pop group Duran Duran are ‘shocked’ and ‘saddened’ by the recent loss of a High Court claim regarding the ownership of the copyright of some of their best-known hits.
Almost 40 years ago, Duran Duran entered into worldwide contracts to assign the copyright in songs written or composed by them. At the time of the agreements, the band were said to be aware of a US law which stated that 35 years after copyright had been assigned, a notice could be served demanding that the US copyright be transferred back to the authors.
Duran Duran had served notices under this US law for the copyright in their most famous songs (including Rio and Hungry like the Wolf) to be transferred back to them. The current owner of the copyright commenced proceedings in the UK for a declaration that serving these notices was a breach of the contracts under which the copyright was assigned.
The High Court ruled against the band, confirming that the contracts prevent Duran Duran from exercising their rights under US law to require that the copyright be returned to them.
This case has brought to light an issue that may affect many UK artists looking to remove themselves from long-term contracts that enable music-publishing companies to exploit their song writing rights. Arguably, this judgment sets a dangerous precedent for English law being used to override the rights of UK authors in other countries.
The converse argument is that if parties freely enter into a contract in which they agree that their copyright worldwide should be assigned to a third party; this agreement should be respected and upheld. What this case does demonstrate is the complex nuances in contracts of this nature, and the need for absolute clarity in communication when trying to future proof a contract.