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New York Federal Court Allows Recording Artists’ Copyright Termination Claims in Class Action to Proceed against Sony Music Entertainment

April 1, 2020 — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled on March 31 that musicians can proceed with their class action lawsuit alleging Section 203 copyright termination and infringement claims against recording industry giant, Sony Music Entertainment (“Sony”). The federal district court rejected, among other things, Sony’s argument that the musicians’ claims were “defective,” based upon minor alleged errors in Notices of Termination sent by plaintiffs David Johansen, Southside Johnny, and Paul Collins. The court’s ruling allows the plaintiffs and the alleged Class to move forward on their termination and infringement claims seeking actual and/or statutory damages for sound recordings that Sony has continued to exploit after the effective date of the termination notices.

In siding with the recording artists and denying Sony’s motion to dismiss, the court explained:

“…[T]he Copyright Office has provided a general rule that would relieve terminating parties from ‘harmless errors in a [termination] notice that do not materially affect the adequacy of the information required to serve the purposes of 17 U.S.C. [§] 203.’…The Copyright Office has unambiguously explained that the purpose behind § 203 is to provide protections for authors of creative works. One motivation behind the Sections is to counterbalance the unequal bargaining position of artists, resulting in part from the ‘impossibility of determining a work’s value until it has been exploited.’”

Section 203 of the Copyright Act, enacted in 1976 and commonly known as the “35-year law,” represents a major challenge to the projected revenue streams for recording companies in the music industry. Plaintiffs filed the case, on behalf of the putative Class, because Sony has refused to allow recording artists, who have sent Notices of Termination to those companies, to take back ownership and control of their U.S. copyrights. The court’s ruling allows plaintiffs to move forward with discovery and trial. A trial date has not yet been set by the court.

Plaintiffs are represented by Evan S. Cohen, Maryann R. Marzano, a Los Angeles attorney who recently brought successful class action suits against Sirius XM and Spotify, and by David M. Perry, Roy W. Arnold, Ryan E. Cronin, and Gregory M. Bordo of Blank Rome LLP

Additional contact information:  Evan S. Cohen (esc@cohenmusiclaw.com310-556-9800); Maryann R. Marzano (; Roy W. Arnold, (; Ryan E. Cronin (; and David M. Perry (