The Jesus and Mary Chain Sues Warner Music Group for $2.55 Million for Refusing to Return Copyrights

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Scottish alt-rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain (JAMC) is suing Warner Music Group (WMG) for $2.55 million over the Big Three record label’s alleged failure to return the copyrights from 17 tracks.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – and specifically brothers James Reid and William Reid, the act’s founding members and chief songwriters  – just recently submitted the firmly worded complaint to a California federal court. DMN obtained an exclusive copy of the corresponding filing, which alleges at the outset that Warner Music Group, “without any viable or tenable legal grounds for doing so, has stubbornly and willfully refused to comply with” the 38-year-old group’s notices of termination.

The Jesus and Mary Chain issued the latter under Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976, which states that the copyrights associated with “any work other than a work made for hire” can be terminated by their creators after 35 years. And on the effective date of termination, “all rights under this title that were covered by the terminated grants revert to the author, authors, and other persons owning termination interests under clauses.”

Bearing this language in mind, several 1980s film stars are fighting legal battles in an effort to regain ownership of their copyrights, while Dwight Yoakam in February of this year levied a termination-focused lawsuit of his own against WMG. In the latter complaint, the country legend said that the Big Three label had “refused to acknowledge and accept” his notices of termination, instead allegedly suggesting new deals as the notices’ deadlines approached.

But according to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s action, Warner Music higher-ups maintained that the plaintiffs “do not have the right to serve a Notice of Termination upon the current grantee (WMG) because the works at issue are subject to only British law, and plaintiffs are not ‘authors’ of the works.”

For reference, The Jesus and Mary Chain signed with WEA (which would become “Warner Music” in 1991 and “Warner Music Group” in 2001) on March 27th, 1985, the suit relays, before releasing their debut album, Psychocandy, in January of 1986 – 35 years ago as of 2021’s start. Moreover, several of the project’s singles released in early 1985.

As such, James and William Reid (“a majority of the authors of all of the works of JAMC”) submitted an initial notice of termination to Warner Music in January of 2019. But on December 9th, 2020, “shortly before the first effective date of termination,” Rhino Entertainment’s Melissa Battino responded in a letter that the defendant “is the owner of the copyrights throughout the world in each of the sound recordings comprising the Noticed Works,” per the suit.

Moreover, “the Notice is not effective to terminate WMG’s U.S. rights,” Battino’s response allegedly proceeded, with the plaintiffs having purportedly “never owned any copyrights in the recordings which [The Jesus and Mary Chain] could terminate” under UK law. Lastly, the follow-up indicated that The Jesus and Mary Chain founding members, by serving the termination notice, “may” violate the terms of the initially noticed 1985 record deal.

“Accordingly, your attempt to terminate WMG’s rights in and to the Noticed Works is without effect and will have no impact on WMG’s continued ownership and exploitation of the Noticed Works in the U.S. pursuant to its rights as outlined above,” the message allegedly concluded.

Warner Music then “ignored” the effective date of termination (January 8th, 2021) for the termination notice’s first four works – the singles “Never Understand,” “You Trip Me Up,” and “Just Like Honey,” along with their B-sides as well as the 14-track Psychocandy – and was “still exploiting the recordings as of the filing of this suit,” per the legal document.

Despite WMG’s alleged pushback against the opening termination notice, the band – which released its first album in 19 years, Damage and Joy, via Artificial Plastic Records in 2017 – served a second notice on April 8th, 2021, covering works released between 1987 and 1992, with “an effective date of termination no later than 2025.” A third notice, encompassing works with an effective termination date of June 10th, 2023, followed on June 9th.

In closing, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s suit describes as “untenable” the “position that British law applies to United States copyrights, and that authors of United States copyrights can somehow ‘breach their recording contracts’ by duly exercising their rights under” Section 203 of the Copyright Act.

“British law has absolutely no application to any such matter,” the text proceeds, and the plaintiffs are seeking $150,000 for each of the 17 allegedly infringed works (for a total of $2.55 million), “additional damages for all of the sound recordings infringed up to an[d] including the date of trial,” and a “preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining and restraining WMG…from continued denial and disregard of the” termination notices.

At the time of this piece’s publishing, Warner Music didn’t appear to have publicly responded to the complaint. Back in March, singer-songwriter Anita Baker asked fans to cease streaming and purchasing her music as she worked to regain ownership of her intellectual property.