The ‘nuclear option’
The labels probably will argue that performers were “workers for hire,” serving more like employees of the record label than the creative authors or owners of the work, according to Casey Rae Hunter, spokesman for the Future of Music Coalition, which is advocating for artists to seek their rights.
Work for hire is specifically exempt from copyright law, under the logic that those who work for hire on a song (the artist, as well as the sound engineers, the producer, the backup singers and others) operate as a sort of ensemble cast assembled at the direction of the recording company.
“That’s their nuclear option,” said Hunter, who cautioned that documents filed with the copyright office as “work for hire” are simply filled out that way on a form by the record label, not designated that way by any legal authority.
“They’re going to negotiate first, and then they’re going to assume it’s a work for hire.” Litigation over the issue appears inevitable, Hunter said.