Appeals court rejects artist's bid for masters.

French veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday has lost his case against his record company, Universal Music France.

An appeals court in Paris today (April 12) overturned a decision made in July 2004 by a French labor tribunal. The initial judgment ordered Universal to hand back to Hallyday control to all masters from his 42 years with the company.

The appeals court today said Universal will be able to continue to exploit the artist's catalog of more than 1,000 songs. 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 another 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 SNEP,
whose members include all the majors and some indie labels, and 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 signed a new contract with Universal in December 2002. According to the terms of the deal, he was to record six albums. But disagreements over royalties from his catalog prompted him to "resign" from Universal in January 2004 and take the company to court.

Hallyday, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, is at 61 one of France's most popular artists. His studio albums regularly shift 1 million units each.