1970s-era musicians sue Sony, UMG to reclaim song rights

NEW YORK, Feb 5 (Reuters) - David Johansen, John Waite and other prominent 1970s musicians filed lawsuits on Tuesday accusing Sony Music Entertainment Inc and UMG Recordings Inc of improperly refusing to let them reclaim rights to songs they had long ago signed away.

The proposed class actions filed in Manhattan federal court said U.S. copyright law gives songwriters who bargained away their works on unfavorable terms a "second chance" to reclaim their rights by filing termination notices after 35 years.

But they said Sony and UMG have "routinely and systematically" ignored hundreds of notices, mainly because they deemed the songs "works made for hire" under their recording contracts and therefore not subject to being reclaimed.

The named plaintiffs in the Sony case are Johansen, formerly of the New York Dolls and who as Buster Poindexter recorded "Hot Hot Hot;" John Lyon, who performs as Southside Johnny; and Paul Collins, known for the Paul Collins Beat.

Plaintiffs suing UMG, a unit of France's Vivendi SA , include Waite, formerly of The Babys and later known for his 1984 hit "Missing You;" and Joe Ely, a guitarist who has performed with The Clash, Bruce Springsteen and others.

Sony and UMG did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm Blank Rome and by Evan Cohen, a Los Angeles lawyer.

"We represent well over 100 artists from the late '70s and early '80s who want to own their U.S. copyrights, but are being stonewalled by Sony and Universal after sending notices," Cohen said in an interview. "In many cases, we are talking about artists who have never received royalties from the recordings."

Both lawsuits cover recording artists who served termination notices effective Jan. 1, 2013 or later.

They seek injunctions requiring that the notices be honored, monetary damages and other remedies.

The cases are Waite et al v UMG Recordings Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-01091; and Johansen et al v Sony Music Entertainment Inc in the same court, No. 19-01094. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)