Race, Rights, and Reversion: Creator Rights in the U.S. and South Africa

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Kevin J. Greene

Kevin j. Greene

September 11, 2020 
12pm-1:30pm EST
6pm - 7:30pm SAST

Hosted by PIJIP and the WCL Sports and Entertainment Law Society 

Professor Kevin J. Greene will discuss his new research on old school hip hop artists and the impact of the “formalistic and complex labyrinth” of U.S. copyright termination provisions on their work. In the context of his research, we will host a discussion of the proposal in the South Africa Copyright Amendment Bill to limit assignments of contract to 25 years.

ABSTRACT: The promise of copyright recapture is severely attenuated by the formalistic and complex labyrinth of the copyright termination provisions, as well as music industry practices, customs and outright resistance to copyright terminations. These forces conspire to doom recapture for all but the most sophisticated and diligent artists from ever realizing the promise of copyright recapture, demonstrating once again that copyright formalities, such as copyright registration and copyright terminations, have an oppressive impact on African-American artists. If artists fail to navigate the labyrinth of the copyright termination provisions, the rights to their works will remain with the entities that control those rights--record labels and music publishing companies, more often than not multinational corporations.

As the United States grapples with overt and insidious racial inequality under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement, the real question is whether the new awareness of racial inequality will reexamine inequality in the copyright regime, and lead to real reform. 

The pernicious dynamics of doctrines like copyright terminations and copyright registration also shine a harsh light on calls in academic IP circles to “re-formalize” copyright law. Copyright law until 1976 was built on a mountain of technical formalities. The 1976 Copyright Act ostensibly eliminated formalities, but copyright terminations retain the old approach. Greene contends that debates over copyright reform must take into account how copyright policy fosters disparate and negative treatment of Black artists, the innovators, and architects of the American music recording industry.

PROFESSOR KEVIN JEROME GREENE is a Visiting Professor at California Western School of Law, where he teaches Contracts and Entertainment Law as well as Music law. Greene has also served as a visiting professor at the University of San Diego Law School and Hofstra Law School in New York. Before becoming a law professor, Greene practiced law in New York at the premier law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he represented high profile companies such as Time Warner and HBO in litigation matters.