Duran Duran Lose Copyright Case

Members of Duran Duran have lost a copyright case over who owns the rights to a number of their songs including big hits such as Girls on Film and Bond theme A View to a Kill. The musicians had sought to rely on the United States Copyright Act 1976, which gives artists the right to call for reversion of copyright in their works after 35 years. This would mean they could terminate the grant of US copyrights to Gloucester Place Music Ltd (part of EMI, ultimately owned by Sony) in their first three albums by giving notice. However, the English courts ruled that the contract the band made with the company overrode that, and means the copyright stays with the company rather than the band. The Judge found that the meaning of the contract was clear: that copyright would stay with the company for its full term. In the UK, copyright survives for 70 years after an artist’s death. The case was brought in the English courts as the contract specified the courts of England as the place for the resolution of any disputes.

The band expressed their disappointment with the judgment, saying they were ‘outraged and saddened’. They said that they were just teenagers when they signed the contract, and were concerned that the case set a worrying precedent. EMI issued a statement saying it has ‘nothing but the highest respect and admiration for Duran Duran and their great songs’, but that the case was a contractual issue on clarifying who had rights in the songs.

The case shows how careful artists need to be when signing agreements relating to copyright. The purpose of the US law is to protect artists from the consequences of agreements which assign copyrights for their full term. However, where an agreement specifies English law as the governing law and English courts as the forum for any dispute, the court will interpret the contract according to English law. In doing so in this case, the Judge found, although ‘not without hesitation’, that the band had agreed by contract not to exercise their rights under the US Act.