Dwight Yoakam ‘Guitars, Cadillacs’ Tracks Removed Amid Lawsuit

At the moment, you can still enjoy most of the songs from Dwight Yoakam’s 1986 debut album Guitars, Cadillacs Etc., Etc., but it may not be that way for long. The song “Miner’s Prayer” has already disappeared from most music subscription and download services, as has “Honky Tonk Man.” More songs might be disappearing soon as well. What’s going on?

In a case filed in the United States District Court of Central California on Monday (2-8), Dwight Yoakam is suing the Warner Music Group for failing to return the copyrights to his songs from the album per Section 203 of the Copyright Act. This is a much-argued provision of United States Copyright law that was originally enacted in the Copyright Act of 1976 that states that after 35 years, original authors can cancel the copyright grants signed away to others, and reclaim them for themselves.

According to the lawsuit (see in full), Dwight Yoakam first notified Warner Music of his intentions to regain his copyrights back in February of 2019, and sent the company termination notices for the copyrights. In December of 2020, Yoakam then submitted his own copyright notices to be officially recorded with the United States Copyright Office. Over the last two years, WMG has not responded to Yoakam’s requests to transfer ownership of the copyrights according to the lawsuit, and on January 29th, Yoakam sent a final notice to Warner threatening to sue if no action was taken.

The reason “Miner’s Prayer” and “Honky Tonk Man” have been affected specifically is due to these songs being released as singles ahead of the release of Guitars, Cadillacs Etc., Etc. proper on March 12th, 1986. The two songs were bundled as a promotional single, and released on January 31st, 1986, meaning it’s already been 35 years since they were published. Hypothetically, the closer we get to March 12th, 2021 with no resolution, the more likely the entirety of Guitars, Cadillacs Etc., Etc. will disappear from your favorite streaming and download service, and store shelves.

Warner Music Group appears to be taking the songs down so they do not earn any further profit from them that may come into dispute from the Yoakam lawsuit. However the lawsuit says this is causing injury to Yoakam due to lost revenue, and tying up the songs. “Defendants, by refusing to return Mr. Yoakam’s works while simultaneously refusing to exploit those same works, are essentially holding Mr. Yoakam’s copyrights hostage and paralyzing Mr. Yoakam from financially benefiting from his statutory right to terminate the transfer of his copyrights,” the lawsuit says.

The exercising of Section 203 of the Copyright Act as recordings reach the 35-year threshold has been a long-debated portion of copyright law, and the subject of numerous lawsuits. Multiple class action lawsuits are currently pending in New York affecting Sony and the Universal Music Group, brought by artists such as John Waite and Joe Ely.

The Dwight Yoakam lawsuit goes on to say that Warner subsidiary Rhino Records has proposed new deal terms to Yoakam for the copyrights, but will not acknowledge that ownership has officially reverted back to Yoakam.

Where the lawsuit goes from here, we’ll have to see. But if you don’t own a copy of Guitars, Cadillacs Etc., Etc. you might want to secure one for now, because it might be disappearing indefinitely soon. Produced by guitarist Pete Anderson, it’s considered a landmark album in country music, and put Dwight Yoakam on the national map as a Bakersfield Sound neotraditionalist.

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