The Copyright Revision Act of 1976 (which became effective on January 1, 1978) included a clause that allowed artists & songwriters to reclaim their copyrights from the publishers & labels they transferred the rights to. This means any song created in or after 1978 is eligible for reversion either 35 years from publication or 40 years from the date of assignment of copyright to a publisher. The Notice of Termination can be sent as early as ten years prior to the termination effective date, or as late as two years prior.
For example: a song published in 1990 has the termination window of 2025-2030. If the original authors want the copyright to revert back to them in 2026, the notice could’ve been filed in 2016 or as late as 2024.
This has the potential to completely change the music industry, and it may have already. Many legacy artist have filed termination paperwork to have their masters revert to them, and several have been able to renegotiate their royalty rates and continue their relationship with the original labels. However, several other labels are taking the position that the masters were created as “works for hire”, deeming the artists as “employees” and the recordings ineligible for reversion.
Until someone is bold enough to take it to court, it’s too soon to tell the effects of this law on the music industry as a whole.