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Home Archive Volume 64 Volume 64, Issue 2 COMMENT: They Could Be Back: The Possibility of Termination Rights for Session Musicians
COMMENT: They Could Be Back: The Possibility of Termination Rights for Session Musicians

By Alexandra El-Bayeh | 64 Am. U. L. Rev. 285 (2014)

 

Beginning in 2013, many musicians became eligible to regain rights they assigned to recording companies thirty-five years ago.  Through a provision of the Copyright Act, artists can “terminate” these rights and regain control of their work as long as the work was not a “work for hire.”  This Comment focuses on session musicians’ ability to claim termination rights in their creative contributions to sound recordings. Session musicians have been the focus of increased attention because many of them signed away their rights for little payment and control and without knowing the future possible uses of their works, particularly in digital sampling.

This Comment first considers whether these session musicians qualify as employees for hire under the statutory definition and subsequent work-for-hire doctrine.  After determining that these musicians are not always employees for hire, this Comment examines the types of authorship claims they have at their disposal.  Most session musicians will not be able to claim joint authorship under the current doctrine, but they may have the ability to claim copyright in independently contributed material.  Due to these authorship claims, the session musicians will be able to exercise termination in certain circumstances.

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