Country Star Yoakam Sues After Warner Holds Copyrights Hostage

Two-time Grammy Award-winning country music singer Dwight Yoakam filed suit against Warner Music Group and its subsidiaries in California federal court on February 8, 2021, alleging willful copyright infringement and conversion. The facts alleged are as follows: Yoakam first entered into a contract with Warner in 1985, and this claim arises from Yoakam’s attempt to terminate his 35-year relationship with the music giant and Warner’s “malicious” response.

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, termination rights allow authors to reclaim the copyright in their works 35 years after the initial grant of copyright. Yoakam claims that after he exercised his statutory “right to terminate,” the label denied him his rights to reclaim the copyrights to his music, essentially holding them “hostage.” Warner refused to accept this termination but did attempt to renegotiate his contract.

In the complaint, it is further alleged that Warner Music Group had “profited and benefited off of Mr. Yoakam for 35 years,” and, not wanting “their gravy train to end,” have “refused to acknowledge and accept Mr. Yoakam’s valid Notices of Termination.” By doing so, it is alleged that Warner is blatantly disregarding Mr. Yoakam’s right to regain control over his sound recordings, which is an important right granted to artists under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.

After nearly two years of haggling with Warner Music, Mr. Yoakam sent a final letter in late January 2021, demanding a response, but Warner wrote back that they “have not yet made a decision as to how to proceed.”

Finally, Yoakam alleges that Warner has continued to claim ownership of his sound recordings and prevented him from financially benefiting from his music. Yoakam further alleges that Warner’s act of taking his songs “Honky Tonk Man” and “Miner’s Prayer” down from streaming platforms was just “to spite him.” Yoakam says that Warner is taking these punitive measures to avoid infringing his copyrights, but by doing so Warner is also implicitly recognizing his termination notices. This has placed both Yoakam and his fans in a position where he is unable to earn royalties on his songs and they are unable to listen to them. Warner has caused “irreparable injury” by “depriving [Yoakam] of his expected income.”

According to the suit, Yoakam is seeking a court order stating that he will be the sole copyright owner of these works, as well as punitive damages and actual damages in excess of $1 million, or in the alternative, statutory damages,

Dwight Yoakam is represented by Richard S. Busch of King & Ballow

Counsel information for Warner could not immediately be determined.

The case is Dwight Yoakam v. Warner Music Group Corp. et al., case number 2:21-cv-01165, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is an entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The firm has extensive experience handling cases involving copyright law, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.

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