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December 26, 2011
A now ambiguous provision in the American copyright law could spark an enormous legal battle between a St. Louis Park songwriter and the music industry.
The songwriter, Steven Greenberg, brought into existence one of the best known musical exports of Minnesota. The disco song was such a big-hit that it transcended disco.
The song became the catalyst for the huge sales of Lipps Inc. record, “Mouth to Mouth” when it came out.
From that time on, Greenberg said that it has been used in commercials, movies, Broadway productions, TV shows, an updated version of the “Taming of the Shrew” in Australia and an original play in Sweden.
Greenberg said, “Something like the song ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles has had 7 million performances, and that’s like the most performed song ever. And I think ‘Funkytown’ is getting close to two million. So, not bad.”
Add up the licensing fees and royalties that ‘Funktown’ has brought in over the years, the financial windfall to Greenberg is believed to quite spectacular.
The Universal Music Group, which holds the copyright to the song, is also believed to have gotten the lion’s share of the money that was generated by “Funkytown.”
However, a Copyright Act amendment made in 1976 could change that relationship. The provision gives the song authors the right to repossess ownership of the song’s copyright after thirty-five years. The amendment covers all recordings that have been released since Jan. 1, 1978. Congress has decided that 35 years is sufficient for a label to benefit from riches that a song may have created.
Greenberg, with help from his Minneapolis attorney, Ken Abdo, is the first songwriter in America to file a “termination of transfer” notice with the United States Copyright office for “Funkytown.”