Copyright law has always played a big role in the music industry, often turning things ugly for artists, labels, and businesses that are in any way involved with the music world. It looks as though things are about to get even more complicated, and a colossal legal battle between major labels and legendary artists could be on the horizon.
In the mid-70's there was a revision in copyright law that gave musicians "termination rights." These rights allow musicians and other artists to retake ownership of their creations after 35 years, as long as they apply two years in advance. This means that songs recorded after 1978 will be the first to be affected.
Artists like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bryan Adams have already filed at the United States Copyright Office, but all four major record labels have indicated that they will not give up rights easily. They have long considered the recordings their own property, and a loss of that property would just add to the damage done by the internet technology and filesharing that has rattled the industry for the past decade.
The earliest that ownership can be reclaimed is 2013, but the labels are already in talks about the issue of termination rights. They refused to publicly speak on the topic, but Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America, explained, "We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings."
As of now, nobody has a definitive answer on what this will mean for major labels and the music industry as a whole, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.