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Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel Could Soon Own Their Own Classic Albums

Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel
Pascal Le Segretain/ Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

There’s a little bit of light in the darkness for artists like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and the Eagles, thanks to copyright laws that will soon allow them to regain control of their famous master recordings.

Copyright laws were revised in the ‘70s to give artists the right to regain control of their output via “termination rights.” Albums become eligible 35 years after they are released. The New York Times reports that albums from 1978 will be the first to gain that eligibility, which makes Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ and Billy Joel’s ‘52nd Street’ two of the most notable moneymaker whose ownership could soon change hands.

There’s two hitches though – first is that artists must file two years in advance of the eligibility date in order to claim their albums and the royalties that go along with them. Artists also have the ability to claim ownership of individual songs, which is something that Dylan, Petty, Bryan Adams and others have already begun pursuing.

Second, and more concerning to the artists, the record labels aren’t exactly willing to let these cash cows walk out of the door without a fight: “We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” states Steven Marks of the lobbying group Recording Industry Association of America.

Artist advocate and Eagles principal Don Henley, a founding member of the Recording Artists Coalition, says that “the recording industry has made a gazillion dollars on those masters, more than the artists have.  So there’s an issue of parity here, of fairness. This is a bone of contention, and it’s going to get more contentious in the next couple of years.”

Representatives for both Springsteen and Joel have declined comment on any plans that their artists might have to take advantage of these copyright issues. The United States Copyright Office processes those termination claims manually, which makes it impossible to get concrete information regarding how many artists have filed to date.

Songwriters Guild of America president Rick Carnes says “year after year after year you are going to see more and more songs coming back to songwriters and having more and more influence on the market. We will own that music, and it’s still valuable.”

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