French veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday has lost his case against his record company, Universal Music France. An appeals court in Paris on April 12 overturned a decision made in July 2004 by a French la

LONDON -- French veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday has lost his case against his record company, Universal Music France. An appeals court in Paris on April 12 overturned a decision made in July 2004 by a French labor tribunal.

On July 28, the labor tribunal ordered UMF to hand back to veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday the masters from his 42 years with the company.

The 61-year-old artist had signed a new contract in December 2002 with Universal. According to the terms of the contract, Hallyday was due to record six albums for the company.

After a royalty dispute, Hallyday took Universal to labor court, declaring that he "resigned" from the company Jan. 5. Under French labor law, artists can "resign" before the end of their term in case of a conflict with their employer. Hallyday maintained that his royalty rates were not sufficient, especially on back catalog. Universal says it accepted his resignation.

In the labor tribunal ruling, the Conseil des Prud'hommes in Paris confirmed the artist's resignation, effective on Dec. 31, 2005. However, the tribunal --which primarily comprises representatives from the business community and citizens --ordered that Universal must hand over the masters to more than 1,000 tracks Hallyday recorded during his tenure with the company. It was a decision that some lawyers said was beyond the purview of the labor court.

The appeals court held that Universal will be able to continue to exploit the artist's catalog. The court also ruled that Hallyday still owes an album to Universal, and that he will have to promote the album.

According to the court, Hallyday will be free of his obligations to Universal on Jan. 1, 2007, and will then be free to sign with any other label. However, the court added that if he wishes to exploit live recordings of works owned by Universal, he will have to reach terms with the company.

Neither Hallyday nor his lawyer were present when the ruling was made public. The decision can still be appealed before the Cour de Cassation, a French high court.

The decision was eagerly awaited by the music industry. Labels feared that if the appeal confirmed the decision from the labor tribunal, any artist under exclusive contract with a label could walk out.

During the appeal hearing in January, Universal received the support of trade bodies Le Syndicat National de l'édition Phonographique (SNEP), whose members include all the majors and some indie labels, and L'Union des Producteurs Phonographiques Français Indépendants (UPFI), which represents exclusively indies. UPFI lawyer David Forest says, "This ruling favors producers and the record industry. The legal system has at last given the law in its rightful place."

Hallyday, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, is one of France's most popular artists. His studio albums regularly ship 1 million units each.