One of the most popular songs of all time, “Mickey,” was recorded by Toni Basil, who is solely responsible for its recording copyright, according to an appeals court ruling in the US last week.
It is only within the United States that musicians and writers who have assigned or transferred their copyrights to record labels and music publishers can use this termination right to take back control of their rights after 35 years.
There has been a steady increase in the cancellation of long-term publication contracts in the US music industry, as writers take back rights they granted to publishers more than three decades ago.
However, determining who was the original default owner of a sound recording’s copyright presents an additional challenge on the recordings’ side. Labels may claim that they were the original default owner, implying that no assignment of rights from the artist to the label has ever taken place, and so there is no assignment to terminate.
Default ownership of sound recording copyrights is governed differently in different countries. The performers and/or producers who contributed creatively to the record are the default owners in the United States. Except if the recording is done on a “work for hire” basis, in which case the performer and producer are basically hired to perform and make the recording, in which case the person who hired them is the default owner.
Numerous instances of artists trying to get out of work-for-hire contracts have resulted in labels insisting that there is nothing to be terminated because the label is automatically the owner of any copyright associated with the work. There are currently court proceedings pending against Sony and Universal, where musicians argue that most record deals are not valid work-for-hire agreements..
The current owner of ‘Mickey’ and several other recordings, Stillwater, argued differently when Basilotta, actual name Antonia Basilotta, sought termination of her early 1980s record deal to reclaim the rights to ‘Mickey.’
It was stated that Greg Mathieson, the producer of the song, should be regarded as a co-author. As a result, Basilotta could only claim a portion of the recording rights, with the label-retaining the portion that had been Mathieson’s prior to the termination of her former contract.
Mathieson’s role in the recording of “Mickey” led to a controversy. A joint effort between the artist and producer, or did he simply press play on a recording session that was tightly orchestrated by Basilotta himself?
- Lupin Season 3 Is On Netflix Back Soon?
- Is Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Season 5 Confirmed By Netflix?
Basilotta is the only owner of the ‘Mickey’ recording copyright thanks to a lower court’s decision that it was the latter. After that, Stillwater appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s decision last week.
“Stillwater has not shown joint authorship by a preponderance of the evidence,” the appeal judges stated in their decision. “Stillwater has offered scant evidence that Mathieson exerted control.”
However, despite Mathieson’s boss talking about how he remembered the producer’s role in the recording process, the judges concluded: “This vague description of Mathieson’s role as a producer, from someone who only occasionally witnessed Mathieson performing that role, is inadequate to prove that Mathieson was a creative mastermind behind the recordings rather than someone who, for example, was largely mixing the tapes at Bas.”
It’s also clear that artistic control was in the hands of Basilotta and not Mathieson,” they said. If a recording did not meet what it deemed an “acceptable… creative level,” for example, the firm might have terminated its contract with Basilotta. To ensure that the recordings were “technically satisfactory and suitable in all respects for commercial exploitation,” the company only had ultimate approval of the recordings in future contracts.
They also said that “Basilotta appears to have predominantly held creative control, picking songs and instrumental musicians and conceiving the themes for recordings, and even helping Mathieson mix the master tapes.”
Previously, Stillwater argued that recording sessions were a type of creative collaboration between the artist and the producer in the music industry. But the courts found that Stillwater failed to submit expert testimony or evidence that Mathieson performed the traditional duty of the producer.
A producer’s function is traditionally defined, but Mathieson was an inexperienced producer, thus there is less reason to believe that he acted in accordance with that definition than there would be for a more experienced producer.
In light of this, the Ninth Circuit upheld Basilotta’s claim to sole ownership of the ‘Mickey’ recording copyright.
This isn’t Basilotta’s first legal battle with “Mickey” in recent memory. She had already sued over a number of unapproved sync transactions.
It was contended she had a veto over such arrangements under her initial contract. Because of concerns with the way the recording rights had been transferred after her former label, Radial Choice went bankrupt in the mid-1980s, that complaint also asserted that the ownership of the copyright in the tune was in doubt.