Music Label Seeks For Repealing Reversionary Rights

At the end of November last year, one of Indonesian major music labels, Musica Studios, filed a judicial review to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia against Law no. 28 of 2014 concerning Copyrights (the 2014 Copyright Law), particularly towards Articles 18, 25 and 122 that provides what is generally known as reversionary rights.

According to Article 18 of the 2014 Copyright Law, all literary and musical works, with or without lyrics, that copyright ownership have been transferred from the authors to other parties under sold-flat and/or perpetual agreement, the ownership of the copyright shall return to the authors at the 25th anniversary of the ownership transfer agreement. Article 25 also contains similar provision for the works of performers. Meanwhile Article 122 provides for retroactivity for Articles 18 and 25, by which both articles are also applicable towards transfers of copyrights that occurred prior to the passing of the Copyright Law.

The rules for reversionary rights, in which transferred copyright shall return to the authors upon meeting certain conditions, were only introduced in Indonesia under the 2014 Copyright Law, which was the fourth instalment of the law since Indonesia enacted its first national law on copyright back in 1982. While modelled after several reversionary provisions in a number of countries, including the United States of America, Indonesian version of reversionary rights under the 2014 Copyright Law can be considered as progressive as the return of the transferred copyright to the authors would occur automatically without requiring the authors to take any action beforehand.

Legal representative for Musica in the judicial review, Otto Hasibuan, stated that his client’s main argument against the reversionary rights under the 2014 Copyright Law is that it violates the very basic legal principles of property ownership transfer, and thus is in violation of human rights pursuant to the constitution. Otto claimed that it is a common principle that once a property is purchased by one party, the ownership shall be perpetually transferred to purchasing party as the new owner unless it becomes subject to a later transfer of ownership. Musica, according to Otto, as well as other music labels, had invested large amount of resources in the production, marketing as well as promotion of the works, which copyright they believe they rightfully own. Accordingly, it would be unfair for the label if they suddenly must lose their ownership upon the works as the copyrights return to the respective authors.

Many musicians, songwriters and performers reacted unfavourably towards Musica’s judicial review. Five professional organization of Indonesian musicians as well as two senior musicians as individuals have joined forces to present themselves in the case against Musica as related parties. The musicians argue that many of the sold-flat agreements that effectuate the transfer of copyrights from the authors to the labels at the first place were made in inequal position, with much weaker bargaining position in the side of the songwriters and/or performers. Such situation left many musicians with virtually no option but to agree with whatever requested by the label.

According to the musicians, twenty-five years have provided the labels with more than enough opportunity to reap from what they invested when they purchased the copyrights, and that the reversion provided under the 2014 Copyright Law shall give songwriters and performers alike with a second chance to benefit from their own works.

As of September 2022, the Constitutional Court has finished hearing statements from the parties, and now the case is entering its final phases where decisions can be expected to be delivered in near future.


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