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Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know?

Well, yes. Copyright Law would be a good start.

When Duran Duran, everyone’s favourite 80s band (except of course if you were a fan of Kajagoogoo) first started out they were put under a great deal of pressure to sign up with a record label. As seemed the norm back then, not much consideration was given to the terms of the deal and the band promptly signed away the rights to all their songs for a very long time. It is clear that they either did not think the value of their copyright would ever amount to much or they were too drunk to care. Either way it was a poor decision with the band going on to sell over 100 million records.

The one chink of light was a little known US statute that allows copyright to revert to the original owner after 35 years, regardless of any contractual term to the contrary. In 2014, 35 years after the deal was signed,  Duran Duran served notice on the copyright holders, a record company called Gloucester Place Music, confirming that copyright in the songs was reverting back to them. Gloucester Place objected and claimed the notification amounted to a breach of the contract.

Unable to resolve the dispute, the parties came before the English Courts in November and the outcome was not a good one for the band. In a decision that shocked most observers, the judge found that the terms of the UK contract trumped the US statute and ordered that the copyright stay with Gloucester Place.

When analysing this decision it is clear the band lost because their lawyers failed to submit key evidence on the US statute and how it applied to the case. They assumed the point was-self evident to the judge when it clearly was not.  This was a fatal error. There is now an appeal pending but it would not be surprising if Duran Duran found a new set of lawyers to handle the case!

The moral of the story is clear, getting good IP advice at the beginning of a negotiation is as crucial as it is when deals go bad!