The singer behind the 1980s hit ‘Mickey’ has won a long-running legal battle over the song’s recording rights, beating a company that claimed to own a 50% share of the master.
In a ruling released Wednesday, May 11, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Toni Basil (real name Antonia Basilotta) was the sole author of the recording rights to the famous new wave track, which reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1982 and spawned an iconic music video.
The court rejected the arguments of the British company Stillwater Ltd. who claimed to have inherited a half-cut from record producer Greg Mathieson. Stillwater claimed that Mathieson had played a role significant enough to deserve half the royalties, but the court was unswayed.
“Basilotta appears to have primarily exercised creative control, selecting songs and instrumental musicians, coming up with the creative concepts for the recordings, and even helping Mathieson mix the master tapes,” the court wrote in its decision.
The court said there was little evidence that Mathieson was a “creative mastermind behind the recordings”, and instead appears to have been someone who “mixed the tapes largely under Basilotta’s direction, in accordance to his creative vision.
The lawsuit against “Mickey” is one of many over the right of rescission, which allows creators to regain control of their old music decades after selling it to a label or publisher. Brian Wilson, Cher, 2 Live Crew, Dwight Yoakam and a host of others have recently fought layoff battles, and two major class action lawsuits are seeking mass enforcement against Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.
In Basil’s case, the copyright to the sound recording of “Mickey” was retained by his record company, which eventually passed it on to Stillwater. Basil filed a notice of termination in 2013 that would have returned full copyright control to him by 2016, but Stillwater retaliated by filing a lawsuit challenging that decision.
After a federal court dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, Stillwater appealed to the Ninth Circuit. He argued that Mathieson and the label played a major role in “Mickey”, including casting Basil and financing the recording. He also claimed that the song’s “audience appeal” came from both, not just Basil – a key consideration in determining whether contributors are “co-writers”.
But in last week’s ruling, the Ninth Circuit said it was Basil’s performance — not any producer’s contributions — that drew in millions of listeners.
“Stillwater’s own evidence suggests that the ‘audience appeal’ of the recordings rested more on Basilotta’s performance than anyone else’s,” the court wrote.
Neither side immediately returned requests for comment on Monday.
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