The Jesus and Mary Chain served a lawsuit against Warner Music Group (WMG) for copyright infringement. The legal action, filed in California on Monday night, will pit US copyright law against British copyright law.
The suit is led by band co-founders Jim and William Reid, and hinges on Section 203 of the US Copyright Act. This section, sometimes referred to as the “35-year law,” allows creators to terminate old grants of rights after a set number of years. In the case of songwriters, it often works out to be 35 years.
The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 debut Psychocandy turned 35 last year, and several of the band’s singles, including “Upside Down”, “Never Understand”, and “Just Like Honey”, are even older. The Scottish rockers began preparing their current actions on January 7th, 2019, when they served a Notice of Termination to WMG.
WMG didn’t respond until December 9th, 2020, at which time they argued that, “according to the copyright laws of the United Kingdom, JAMC ‘never owned any copyrights in the recordings which [JAMC] could terminate.'”
In a statement, the band’s lawyer Evan S. Cohen said,
“Our copyright law provides recording artists and songwriters with a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime chance to terminate old deals and regain their creative works after 35 years. This ‘second chance’ has always been a part of our copyright law. In this case against WMG, the label has refused to acknowledge the validity of any of the Notices of Termination served by The Jesus and Mary Chain, and has completely disregarded band’s ownership rights. Despite the law returning the US rights to the band, WMG is continuing to exploit those recordings and thereby willfully infringing upon our clients’ copyrights. This behavior must stop. The legal issues in this suit are of paramount importance to the music industry.”
In addition to the rights to their music, The Jesus and Mary Chain are seeking statutory damages of $2.55 million. They may face an uphill struggle; in 2016, Duran Duran lost a court battle to regain the US rights to their songs after a judge ruled that English law didn’t allow them to do so.