Natalie Bravo is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Anita Baker is a legendary soul and R&B singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the 1980s. The iconic singer has won eight Grammys and various notable awards for her popular and timeless ballads. Earlier this year during Grammy season, Baker requested that fans not stream or buy her music. Through Twitter, she expressed that she had outlived all her recording contracts and that her master recordings should legally belong to her. On September 3, Baker tweeted a victory in her masters fight and gave fans the go-ahead to listen to her music once more.
Baker’s tweets and subsequent support from fans come as no surprise. In recent years, popular artists have spoken out about compensation from streaming sales and contractual issues. Ownership of masters within the music industry has become a contentious and popular matter, particularly after Taylor Swift’s legal battle resulted in her re-recording her greatest hits. This case is a bit different as it likely relies on a lesser-known section of U.S. copyright law. When Baker described outliving her contracts, she was referring to her right of reversion, which lets her reclaim her copyright after 35 years. Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act states that authors or their survivors are entitled to “terminate grants of copyright assignments and licenses that were made on or after January 1, 1978 when certain conditions have been met.” It is not clear what the conditions were in this case besides length of time, however Baker advocated for ownership effectively and succeeded.
Baker was not only upset that she did not own her masters, but also that the current recordings available were of inferior quality. Baker expressed that the songs currently available lacked the original instrumentation, the recordings were sped up, and the vinyl sold today are not from analog masters, but rather re-processed digital copies. She believes her fans deserve better. Fans encouraged her in a dedicated fashion, with some stating that they bought old iPods just so they could enjoy her music without having to stream it.
Between March and September, Baker frequently provided legal updates through short tweets. Notably, she shared that negotiations with Warner Music Group (formerly WEA Records) began in May 2021 and that she was making progress. Finally, on September 3, she published a photo of her catalog and announced that all her children were coming home. Her advocacy on Twitter garnered tremendous support from her fellow musicians. Fun fact: Taylor Swift supported Baker throughout and tweeted a congratulatory message following Baker’s success.
In the words of Anita Baker, “STREAM ON.”