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Warner Music Strikes Settlement With Dwight Yoakam to End Copyright Termination Battle

The deal will end one of several big cases over a copyright "termination" rule that allows musicians to win back their rights from labels and publishers.

Warner Music Group and Dwight Yoakam have reached a preliminary settlement to end their contentious legal battle over the rights to his 1986 debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., weeks after the country legend said his label was trying to “desperately hang on” to his music.

In papers filed late night on Sunday in Los Angeles federal court, attorneys for both Yoakam and Warner said they had reached “an agreement in principle to settle this dispute” and asked for two additional weeks to finalize the deal.

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Yoakam sued Warner Music last year, claiming the label had wrongly rejected his efforts to win back his music via the termination right – a provision of federal copyright law that allows artists regain their copyrights decades after selling them to a publisher or label.

Before Sunday’s settlement, the case had been heading toward a major ruling. Yoakam was seeking a decision in his favor, arguing last month that the major labels had been flouting the termination provision and that Warner Music had shown “the depths to which they will sink to desperately hang on to plaintiff’s intellectual property.”

The specific terms of the agreement, including whether money was exchanged and who will control what rights, were not included in public filings. Yoakam’s attorney, Richard S. Busch, confirmed the tentative deal but told Billboard he was “not at liberty to provide any details of the settlement.” Representatives for Warner Music did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If finalized, the agreement will resolve one of several major industry lawsuits over terminations. Two class actions, filed on behalf of huge groups of artists, are trying to regain control of masters owned by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. Cher is currently litigating a termination case, as are the members of 2 Live Crew.

Yoakam’s dispute with Warner Music kicked off in February 2019, when he served notice that he intended to terminate the label’s control over Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. and two of its top singles. The album peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and ultimately spent 142 weeks on the chart, the first of three consecutive chart-topping albums for Yoakam.

Two years later, he filed suit – alleging that Warner Music had essentially stonewalled him by refusing to formally confirm his termination. Yoakam asked a federal judge to do so, and said Warner Music had infringed his music by continuing to make it available on streaming platforms.

“Mr. Yoakam’s termination rights under the Copyright Act have been blatantly ignored by the defendants as they reject Mr. Yoakam’s timely and valid termination notices for no legitimate reason other than their own greed,” he wrote at the time, saying the label was holding his songs “hostage.”

In July, a judge denied Warner Music’s request to dismiss Yoakam’s case, ruling that a slight discrepancy in the dates listed on Yoakam’s notice had been the kind of legally “harmless error” that should not doom his termination. And last month, Yoakam moved for a ruling in his favor, arguing in a court filing on Monday that he followed all the rules and the label has no valid reason to reject his request.

“The powerful record industry should be told that it must adhere to Congress’s intent that authors have the right to reclaim their intellectual property regardless of the fact that the record labels do not want to give those rights up after making untold billions of dollars,” Yoakam’s lawyers wrote at the time.