Press Release Copyright Reform

Public Knowledge Launches Paper Urging Copyright Office to Review Artists’ Termination Right

December 5, 2019 , , , ,

Today, we’re happy to announce our newest white paper, “Making Sense of the Termination Right: How the System Fails Artists and How to Fix It,” which explores the “termination right” — the inalienable right of an artist, author, or creator to terminate a copyright license or grant and take back the rights they have lost. The paper argues that the termination right system is failing to protect the very people it was designed to serve: artists and creators.

The paper outlines the various problems throughout the termination right regime and explains the barriers that prevent many artists from exercising their termination right to take control of their creative works. The paper also explores ways for Congress and the United States Copyright Office to strengthen the termination right for artists and creators and to enable them to negotiate better deals while at the same time preserving fan-favorite derivative works — including movies, games, and streaming shows — for the public. The paper concludes by calling for the Copyright Office to conduct a formal study of the termination right regime.

The following can be attributed to Dylan Gilbert, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“Artists and creators are struggling to effectively use their termination right to achieve their personal and professional goals. They typically sign contracts with companies such as book publishers or record labels that help fund, develop, market, and distribute their work early in their careers — sometimes without legal advice. Some have found themselves locked in to unfavorable deals that they can’t escape for decades — if ever.

“In 1976, Congress designed the ‘termination right’ to help artists reclaim their rights or to negotiate more favorable deals as their careers bloomed. It is a powerful right that cannot be given away, not even by contract. Enabling creators to exercise what is supposed to be an inalienable right helps them take creative control of their work and their careers.

“Unfortunately, numerous problems — from legal cost and complexity and imbalances of power to scarce public information — are combining to create dysfunction in the system, which appears to be preventing artists from effectively using their termination right.

“The time has come for Congress to take action by directing the Copyright Office to conduct a formal study of the termination right and to find out how artists are able (or not) to exercise this important right. Only by shining a light on a problem that is often hidden away from public view can we determine how best to fix the system. This will help artists take control of their creative futures, support themselves and their families, and create new and original works that benefit us all.” 

You may view the paper here. You may also view our latest blog post, “It’s Time To Pull Back the Curtain on the Termination Right,” for more information.