Country legend Dwight Yoakam is stepping up his legal battle against Warner Music Group over the rights to his debut album, ripping members of the “powerful record industry” for trying to “desperately hang on” to the intellectual property of artists.
Yoakam sued Warner Music last year, claiming the label had wrongly rejected his efforts to win back his music. The case is one of several closely-watched lawsuits over copyright’s termination right – a provision that allows artists regain their copyrights decades after selling them to a publisher or label.
A federal judge already refused Warner Music’s request to dismiss the case and now Yoakam is moving for a final victory in the case, 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,” wrote Yoakam’s lawyer, Richard Busch of the law firm King & Ballow.
“Each of the defenses defendants have heretofore raised … are wrong as a matter of law and underscore the depths to which they will sink to desperately hang on to plaintiff’s intellectual property,” Busch added.
An attorney for the defendants – WMG’s Warner Records and Rhino Entertainment – did not immediately return a request for comment on Yoakam’s motion.
The case is one of several pending 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. KC & the Sunshine Band, 2 Live Crew, and Cher are all currently litigating termination cases, too.
Yoakam’s fight with Warner Music kicked off in February 2019, when he served notice that he intended to terminate the label’s control over his 1986 debut album 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, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson refused 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. That set the stage for Monday’s filing, in which Yoakam asked the judge for a so-called summary judgment that would end the case in his favor.
In addition to arguing that his termination had been valid, Yoakam also argued Monday that his music wasn’t a “work-for-hire” created at the behest of the label. Those kinds of works, which are retained by the company that commissions them, aren’t covered by the termination right, but Yoakam said he’d never worked for Warner Music nor had he created the album specifically for the label.
Separately on Monday, Warner Music filed its own more limited motion for summary judgment, seeking a ruling that it had not infringed any of Yoakam’s copyrights. Represented by Rollin Ransom of the law firm Sidley Austin, the label argued it had sufficiently notified streaming services to remove the songs and could not be held responsible for their decision not to do so.