The singer behind the chart-topping 1980s hit “Mickey” has won a long-running legal fight over the recording rights to the song, beating a company that claimed to own a 50 percent cut of the master.
In a decision issued Wednesday (May 11), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Toni Basil (real name Antonia Basilotta) was the sole author of the recording copyright to the famed new wave track, which reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1982 and spawned an iconic music video.
The court rejected arguments from a UK company called Stillwater Ltd. that claimed to have inherited a half-cut from a record producer named Greg Mathieson. Stillwater claimed Mathieson played a big enough role to merit half the copyright, but the court was unswayed.
“Basilotta appears to have primarily wielded creative control, selecting songs and instrumental musicians, devising the creative concepts for recordings, and even helping Mathieson mix the master tapes,” the court wrote in its ruling.
The court said there was little evidence that Mathieson was a “creative mastermind behind the recordings,” and that he instead appears to have been someone who was “mixing the tapes largely at Basilotta’s direction consistent with her creative vision.”
The lawsuit over “Mickey” is one of many over the termination right, which allows creators to take back control of their old music decades after they sell it to a label or publisher. Brian Wilson, Cher, 2 Live Crew, Dwight Yoakam and a slew of others have recently fought termination battles, and two major class actions are seeking to enforce the right en masse against Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.
In Basil’s case, the sound recording copyright to “Mickey” was retained by her record label, which eventually passed it along to Stillwater. Basil filed a notice of termination in 2013 that would have reverted control of the entire copyright to her by 2016, but Stillwater fought back by filing a lawsuit to challenge the move.
After a federal court rejected the lawsuit in 2019, Stillwater appealed to the Ninth Circuit. It argued that Mathieson and the label had played a major role in “Mickey,” including picking Basil and funding the recording. It also claimed that the “audience appeal” of the song stemmed from both of them, not just Basil – a key consideration when weighing whether contributors are “joint authors.”
But in last week’s decision, the Ninth Circuit said it was Basil’s performance – and not the contributions of a producer — that pulled in millions of listeners.
“Stillwater’s own evidence suggests that the ‘audience appeal’ of the recordings was predicated more on Basilotta’s performance than on anyone else’s,” the court wrote.
Neither side immediately returned requests for comment on Monday.
Read the entire opinion here: