Warner Music Group is asking a judge to dismiss country star Dwight Yoakam‘s lawsuit against the label that seeks to reclaim the rights to his debut album, claiming Yoakam doesn’t own the rights to two of the songs and the singer’s other claims against them are without merit.
Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., Yoakam’s 1986 debut topped the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, powered by lead single “Honky Tonk Man” — a song first popularized by country singer and the song’s co-writer Johnny Horton three decades earlier. Now, since Yoakam doesn’t own the copyright to that song, as well as the track “Miner’s Prayer,” the label is claiming his suit is invalid.
The motion to dismiss Yoakam’s claims was filed Monday.
Yoakam’s lawsuit was filed Feb 9 against Warner Music Group Corp., Warner Records, and Rhino Entertainment claiming that his multiple requests to reclaim his ownership rights to songs on Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., as well as their corresponding music videos, have either been denied or ignored. The artist’s legal team argued that his basic right to recapture his copyrights granted by the Copyright Act of 1976 is being obstructed by Warner, “a corporation that has already made millions of dollars off the works of Mr. Yoakam.”
Rhino pulled Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. off streaming services on Jan. 31, according to Yoakam’s original lawsuit. “Honky Tonk Man” is, however, still available to stream as part of the soundtrack of Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary — and without Yoakam’s permission, according to his complaint. (He also says the entire Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. album is still on Napster and that the album’s lead single “Guitars, Cadillacs” is still on Warner’s official Dwight Yoakam YouTube channel without the requisite licenses from Yoakam.)
Subsequently, on March 29, Yoakam filed an amendened complaint informing Warner that he was also seeking the termination of “Honky Tonk Man” (1986), “Little Sister” (1987), “Just Lookin’ For a Hit” (1989), “Takes a Lot to Rock You” (1991), “Heart That You Own” (1992), “Thousand Miles from Nowhere” (1993), “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” (1993) “Pieces of Time” (1994), “Gone” (1995) and “Dwight Live” (1995)
In Warner’s motion to dismiss, however, the label argued that Yoakam’s termination requests are premature because the copyrights don’t come due until closer to 2030. While the Copyright act allows authors to terminate their grant of copyright during a five-year window starting five years from the end of 35 years from the date of the grant, Warner argued one of his requests for termination came five days late.
While the Copyright act allows authors to terminate their grant of copyright during a five-year window starting five years from the end of 35 years from the date of the grant, Warner’s attorney Rollin Ransom says in court papers that per the requirements of Section 203, which allows copyright holders to regain their rights after a statutory period, Yoakam needed to serve notice “at least two years prior to that date, or no later than January 31, 2019,” according to Warner’s legal filing. Ransom says Yoakam’s notices were received on Feb. 5, 2019.
While Yoakam’s legal team attributed the delay to a “harmless error,” Warner now argues that error does “not — and cannot — overrule the timing requirements that Congress has adopted.”
In addition, Warner Music Group is asking the court to dismiss all the claims, stating, it “is not a party to the recording agreements at issue, was not the addressee of the termination notices, and was not involved in the communications at issue.” (Yoakam’s lawsuit claims Warner Music Group earned money from his works through its subsidiaries Warner Records and Rhino.)
Yoakam’s attorney Richard Busch tells Billboard they plan to file a response soon. In previous court papers, Busch said, “Having profited and benefitted off Mr. Yoakam for 35 years, [Warner Music Group] do not want their gravy train to end, and have therefore refused to acknowledge and accept Mr. Yoakam’s valid Notices of Termination served properly under Section 203 of the United States Copyright of 1976 in blatant disregard of Mr. Yoakam’s rights.”
Yoakam is demanding the court affirmatively rule that the songs should automatically return to him at the end of the right’s period termination, and he is also seeking an excess of $1 million in damages against Warner.
Busch had said that his client is “being irreparably injured every day” that WMG fails to recognize the validity of the notices. He said his client’s work is essentially being held hostage “paralyzing Mr. Yoakam from financially benefitting from his statutory right to terminate the transfer of his copyrights to WMG.”
When Yoakam sent the termination notices, Warner responded by taking down the works depriving him from earning money that he typically would earn, according to Yoakam’s lawsuit. Busch argues in that complaint that “Yoakam’s works return to him by virtue of his statutory right engrained in the Copyright Act, regardless of what Defendants “decide.”
A hearing is set for May 10 on Warner’s request to dismiss the claims against them.