T. Rex Legal Battle Could Impact Copyright Law
Rolan Feld, son of deceased T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, is in the middle of a legal tug-of-war over his father’s publishing royalties that could potentially have a major impact on the estates of other artists.
Billboard reports that Feld is seeking at least $2 million in damages from the publisher, Westminster Music Limited, as well as full legal ownership of his father’s songs — an enviable catalog that includes ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ and ‘Ride a White Swan.’
The crux of Feld’s argument, which is being presented by noted music business attorney Robert Allen, is a provision in U.S. copyright law that gives the creators of works published before 1978 the opportunity to regain control after 28 years. As Billboard’s report notes, if the artist dies during the original copyright term, “later rights automatically belong to the author’s heirs, and rather incredibly, not even the musician’s will can change that.”
All of which would seem to indicate that Feld’s control of Bolan’s works could hardly be disputed, but with substantial sums of money on the line, it looks like Westminster is willing to duke this out in the courts. According to the article, “there could be defenses raised about the right to exploit derivative works as well as issues involving foreign law, which doesn’t have the same reversion protocol.”
While the specifics of this particular case are obviously unique, the judge’s decision could have major implications for artists whose works fall into the same copyright category — and whose heirs have found it difficult to wrest royalties from their administrators.