How to get your publishing rights back | The Hachar Law Group

Publishing rights and how to get them back

If you gave away the publishing rights to your music, you may be able to get them back. There are two ways to achieve this and depending on your situation, you will be able to proceed legally.

Option 1: Reversion of Copyright

If you have a reversion clause in your contract, this can be an option. A reversal clause is a negotiated contractual provision that specifically notes that the publisher must give you back your rights at some point. 

There are various different ways in which these provisions are written. If you are at the beginning of your career, it’s unlikely that you will be able to negotiate a clause. The clause usually states that the publisher returns all your rights after a set period of time. Yet, there are other things you can negotiate. For example, you can negotiate that the Publisher reverts the rights on any song that was not commercially released. This can be negotiated at the end of the term of the agreement or negotiate a partial reversion post-recoupment Post-recoupment is when the Publisher has made their money back. 

If you are a more experienced artist, you are more likely to successfully negotiate an automatic reversion clause into your contract. Most of these clauses will give you automatic reversion after a set period of time. Especially after the end of the exclusivity period established in the agreement.

Keep an eye out for additional clauses

Additionally, many clauses state that even if the time period has concluded, the rights will not be returned until the Publisher has recouped. Because of this, you may want to negotiate a clause where you can buy your rights back by paying the remaining balance for recoupment at the end of the set time period. 

Option 2: Termination of Copyright

Even if you don’t have a specific reversion clause, you may be able to get your publishing rights back. If you transferred your rights in the U.S., copyright law allows for you to reclaim the rights to your publishing in certain situations. This is called termination of copyright

It is important to note that this does not apply to works made for hire. Works made for hire have no termination rights because no transfer of ownership actually took place. 

Under copyright law, if you transfer your rights to a publisher, the right to terminate the transfer is effective either:

  • (i) thirty-five years from the date of publication
  • or (ii) forty years from the date the rights were granted.

Lastly, termination must be done within a five-year window of the effective date. The notice must be sent to the Publisher and furnish a copy to the U.S. Copyright Office.  Termination can be completed by the original author. If the original author is deceased it can be terminated by the author’s estate, or by a surviving spouse or direct descendant (children or grandchildren). 

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