In copyright law, RENEWAL right is an additional, second, period of rights for created works, such as a song. This was included in the law so that after a certain time songwriters and other authors could get back the rights to whatever creation they assigned to a publisher. For example, works, such as a song had many years of copyright protection. Then if the renewal of the copyright was made an additional period of copyright protection was created.


The purpose of renewal rights was to protect the creators from unscrupulous or ineffective publishers who, after acquiring the author's work, did nothing or little with them and then told the author that they could not get the rights back. For example, sometimes the publisher would go broke or disappeared and the author could not do anything to get the rights back.  Briefly, the purpose was to have a provision in the laws whereby works assigned to publishers would revert to the author in the renewal rights period. Back in the early part of the 20th. century the periods of copyright was 14 years each. An author had to wait 14 years to get the rights back. Later on the law was changed to 28 years for each period. More recently, in 1976, renewal rights were eliminated as was requested to congress by the publishers.


But publishers outsmarted the law and got authors to sign contracts that assigne the renewal rights to the publisher when a work was assigned initially. This was illegal because the renewal rights were could not be assigned during an initial assignment because the rights did not exists then. Renewal rights were only an expectant right. This is what a publisher would tell a fooled songwriter, for example in their songwriter agreements:

This is what a publisher would tell a fooled songwriter, for example in their songwriter agreements:

a. You get an advance payment for the song. This sounded very good to the songwriter, who was usually broke or needed the money  and/or wanted his/her songs heard and thought, erroneously, that a publisher was the golden gate to get there. That is what publishers told songwriters anyway, just as they do today.

b. You assign the song to us. You also assign to us the renewal rights which will accrue in 28 years. If you want the front money you must assign us all your rights, including the renewal rights. The songwriter was never told that this was illegal and only had the purpose of defeating the law, that  a songwriter could not assign his/her renewal rights. Most songwriters and their heir swallowed the line from the publisher or the publisher's lawyer.

c. You will give us a power of attorney. With that that we can sign your name to transfer the renewal rights to us when that time arrives. Forget that the law requires your own signature. We will ignore that part of the law.


If a songwriter or an author wants to assign renewal rights to a publisher it can only be done at the time that the period arrives, not before. The assignment than can be to any person or publisher that the author selects. Of course the author can simply retain the rights for him/herself. The assignment must also comply with this requirement in the law:

§ 205. Recordation of transfers and other documents

(a) Conditions for Recordation. Any transfer of copyright ownership or other document pertaining to a copyright may be recorded in the Copyright Office if the document filed for recordation bears the actual signature of the person who executed it, or if it is accompanied by a sworn or official certification that it is a true copy of the original, signed document.

Our research shows that many songs have been transferred through assignments recorded without the actual signature of the author and actually signed by an employee of the publisher.

A little detail: In the other publishing industries (book, movies, audio visual, etc.), author's renewal rights are more (if not always) respected. Is this because other (non song) authors are better prepared (they are scientists, lawyers, novelists, educators, movie producers, etc.) and less susceptible to be taken advantage of? Or maybe music publishers are more greedy than book and other publishers? The same thing occurs with other abused songwriter rights, such as the right to get back the rights by terminating assignments of songs to publishers, a "hidden" right songwriters in general know nothing about because their copyright law education is given by publisher lawyers who never tell songwriters what rights they have. Briefly, the law allows a songwriter to get back an assigned song after a certain number of years. Publishers simply never notify or ask the songwriter what he/she wants to do when the termination time arrives. Another SCAM. But that is not part of this subject. We shall take it up at another time.


Renewal rights were eliminated from the copyright law in 1976, when it became clear that the publisher tricks to get renewal rights were no longer working for new acquisitions and when congress sold out to the copyright industry interests. Today if a song is assigned to a publisher, it is for the entire duration of the copyright protection period of the song, unless other terms are specified in the assignment contract, a smart thing to do under the songwriter's vantage point. After all a publisher should not have rights to exploit a work if it is not doing so effectively. The idea of a lifetime assignment to a publisher is plainly stupid for the author and the publisher has nothing to loose, unless a certain income level for the author is guaranteed.


If the renewal rights were never assigned to the publisher at the time the rights arrived, there is no need for the author to get the rights back because they are his or her right, not the publisher's. If the publisher continued to have the work in their catalog or somehow continued the exploitation of the work (song, novel, etc.) after the rights returned to the author or his/her heirs, what the author needs to do is to reach an agreement with the publisher, whereby the author is compensated by the publisher. If an agreement cannot be reached, consult a lawyer to determine if a copyright infringement or breach of contract lawsuit or further negotiations are appropriate. But remember, judges are frequently biased in favor of whoever has the big money and that is usually the publisher.


There are probably millions of songs, worth billions of dollars in appropriated (by music publishers) songwriter income, and other copyrighted works that are wrongly believed by authors and their heirs to belong to publishers, mostly because publisher lawyers have told (misled may be a better word) them that the ownership of these rights are unchangeable. Who will correct this, on of the greatest scams of all time? A class action lawsuit? Who knows.

This article may be republished with permission from the author. Just ask.

Author: Rafael Venegas
December 25, 2004 (Merry Christmas!)

States copyright attorney Ivan Hoffman at  that for assignments made before January 1, 1978, "A creator may not contract away the creator's rights to renew a copyright or to terminate the grant.".

The author's father was a composer who signed a contract in 1952 that gave away his copyrights to Peermusic. Peermusic, who, in over 50 years with over 20 assigned songs never had a single one recorded. Peermusic claims that they own the song's renewal rights that do not belong to Peermusic.

The author's father was a composer who signed a contract in 1952 that gave away his copyrights to Peermusic.    Peermusic, who, in over 50 years with over 20 assigned songs never had a single (some are great songs) of these songs recorded. Peermusic claims  that they own the song's renewal rights, that arrived many years later than 1952, because the composer gave away his (inalienable) rights.