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How Stella Got Her Masters Back: Reversion Rights

By Greg Beets, Fri., March 2, 2012

Gloria Gaynor
Gloria Gaynor

Thursday, March 15, 1:30pm, Austin Convention Center Room 11AB

Whether you're going through divorce, disease, or despair, Gloria Gaynor's worldwide disco smash "I Will Survive" is a triumphant anthem for all adversities. The song, written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, recently became one of 25 recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for 2012.

"It's still popular, it's still being played, and the record company is still making lots of money on that record, very little of which I am getting," says Gaynor.

That may soon change thanks to a provision in the 1976 Copyright Act that took effect in 1978, the year "I Will Survive" was released. Under the act, artists like Gaynor can reclaim ownership of their post-1977 master recordings after 35 years. That makes 2013 something of a zero hour in the music industry.

The issue of reversion rights still brings up more questions than answers. Congress didn't specify who constitutes an author of a sound recording, and the already reeling major labels aren't going to give up their lucrative back catalogs without a fight. The Recording Industry Association of America, which lobbies on behalf of labels, has argued that most recordings are works for hire and are therefore not subject to reversion.

Gaynor, who will provide her decidedly different take on the matter as a South by Southwest panelist, thinks Congress needs to step back in to protect artists' rights.

"We need to convince them that a recording is not a work for hire," she asserts. "The artist doesn't sing a song and then walk away, which is what a work for hire is.

"We're constantly out there promoting. If I hadn't been there singing 'I Will Survive' around the world and if I hadn't recorded it in the first place, it would not be constantly played and it would not be making money for the record companies. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that I should be making a pittance from it while the record company makes all this money just because they put up the initial money."

Although Gaynor has not filed to reclaim ownership of her own master recordings, calling it "premature," her animosity toward labels isn't hard to discern.

"I see it as the record company having had their hands in the cookie jar for many, many years and now we're asking them to take it out," she says. "They see it as a loss. I see it as termination of a theft."

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