Musicians Seek Class Action Certification In Lawsuit vs. UMG & Capitol Records

musicians suing UMG Capitol Records
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musicians suing UMG Capitol Records
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Photo Credit: Christian Chen

A group of nine musicians are suing UMG and Capitol Records to regain control of their masters. That group filed a motion on Friday in NY courts seeking class-action certification.

Plaintiffs in the suit Waite vs. UMG Recordings, Inc. and Capitol Records LLC filed a motion for class certification on April 15. They’ve asked District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to certify classes compromised of more than two hundred musical groups and solo recording artists.

The case was brought by singer John Waite and others over U.S. copyright law’s ‘termination right.’ The right is supposed to give artists a way to take control of their old music. But Waite vs. UMG argues that UMG has ignored its obligation in returning masters to artists when asked.

In the new motion filed on April 15, Waite and eight others asked the judge to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit.

Certifying the case as a class-action will allow scores more artists under the UMG umbrella to join the suit. “Defendants have systematically and uniformly refused to honor the notices of termination, instead treating these legally effective and vested terminations as ‘invitations to have a discussion,” the Waite motion filed on Friday reads. “Defendants have been holding the artists’ rights hostage and have deprived the artists of the ability to reclaim their rights.”

John Waite first filed the lawsuit against Universal Music Group in February 2019. He says the label has effectively refused to honor the termination right. But the labels argue that most sound recordings aren’t subject to the termination rule – unlike the underlying musical composition. The label’s argument falls under the purview that recordings are ‘works for hire,’ which means they are created (and belong) to the label in perpetuity.

The April 15 filing argues that UMG’s ‘fictitious’ and ‘erroneous’ arguments are without merit. “Plaintiffs seek class certification here to tear down a central structural element crafted by these record labels decades ago that they use to deny recording artists their federally protected writes,” the motion reads. “Through these fictions and artifices, defendants steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that any recording artist (or his/her successor) has the right to take over control of the sound recordings.”

The motion also argues that both UMG and Capitol Records have failed to provide any evidence that these artists in the classes were ever classified as ’employees for hire.’ “According to longstanding and well-established legal precedent, the mere inclusion of the words ‘work for hire’ in recording agreements is insufficient to magically transform recordings into ‘works made for hire,'” the suit continues.

By means of this class action, Waite and the other eight musicians are seeking copyright infringement statutory damages, declaratory relief, and an injunction against UMG and Capitol for future violations of the Copyright Act.