Copyright Termination - Creative Law Center

Copyright Termination

Copyright Termination: Taking Aim at Top Gun [Live Workshop]

When J.K Rowling, a first time author, signed her publishing deal with Scholastic for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, did she know that it was going to be a blockbuster?

She might have had an inkling because it had already done well in the U.K. But I suspect she did not conceive just how big it would be.

Most traditional publishing deals include a grant of rights for the life of the copyright. Most likely, Rowling’s did too.

In the United States, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

When J.K. Rowling signed her deal, she could have had no idea what her creative property was worth, yet she signed away her copyright anyway.

That’s a problem for all creators who transfer or license the copyright in their work to a publisher in exchange for royalties. Who really knows if it is a good deal?

The publishers are the ones with the negotiating power. The authors, artists, and musicians want to sell their work, but don’t have the production and distribution channels that literary publishers, art publishers, and record labels have.

The bargaining position of creatives, especially those who are new or unknown, is weak partly because of the impossibility of determining a work’s value until it has been exploited.

In 1978, when U.S. law was changed to extend the copyright term to life plus 70, the right of creatives to terminate copyright transfer contracts was created at the same time. This provision in the law was designed to level the playing field between creatives and the publishing industry – to even up the bargaining power.

Creatives are now able to recapture the rights that they may have signed away. Even if the contract says otherwise.

That’s what is going on with this summer’s blockbuster movie Top Gun: Maverick. The family of the author who wrote the original story that was the basis of Top Gun back in 1986 has terminated the copyright transfer using that provision in the law. If the copyright transfer has been properly terminated, Top Gun: Maverick would be an infringement. An infringement generating some serious revenue.

Paramount doesn’t want to believe it. It’s all in court now.

In this month’s workshop, we will sort out the complex termination of transfer provisions in U.S. Copyright Law, including:

  • How to determine whether a work qualifies for termination
  • Who can terminate copyright transfers (heirs, co-authors, etc.)
  • When to exercise termination rights
  • Proper termination notice language
  • Proper termination notice procedures

Copyright termination is known as the “second chance” provision. It gives you a second chance to decide what you want to do with your work. You can choose to renegotiate your deal, regain your rights and self-publish, dedicate your work to the public domain . . . . anything you want to do now that you are older and wiser.

Rights reversion isn’t limited to copyright termination after 35 years. There are strategies for negotiating a reversion of your rights even if the right time under the Copyright Law has not come yet. We will talk about those negotiating strategies, too.

This workshop is being offered as a stand alone opportunity. You do not have to be a member of the Creative Law Center to attend it (members will have access, of course, and need not purchase the workshop separately). You’ll get an email with the Zoom link for Wednesday, July 20 at 1 p.m., Eastern once you sign up. You will have lifetime access to the replay.

This is a live, interactive workshop using Zoom. You will be able to ask questions in real time, so bring your list.

If you are an author, musician, or artist with works published more than 35 years ago, or if you want to get your rights back through negotiation, this workshop is for you.

Join us in this workshop and learn how to regain your creative rights.

Copyright Termination

About the Author

Kathryn Goldman helps small business people, writers, artists, and creative professionals make a living from their creative work by teaching them how to protect and enforce their rights. She is an attorney who writes these posts to help you be more thoughtful about intellectual property and the law as you build your business, write your stories, and create your art.