What Does In Perpetuity Mean?: What Artists Need to Know
Last updated: 14 Nov 2023
There are a few words that come up often in contracts for people working in the arts or music industry. If you can’t wait to sign that sweet contract that you’ve been waiting a decade or more for, we’re here to tell you to slow down and learn what these legal terminologies are before signing anything. Someday, you’ll thank us for this!
The Basics: What does in perpetuity mean?
“In perpetuity” simply means forever. It’s used to fix a term of an agreement to a length of time.
Terms which are agreed upon in perpetuity are often still valid even after a contract ends. What’s more – they even survive the termination of the contract by one party, or the death of one party. E.g. you might sign a 2-year contract, but certain sub-sections, such as a non-disclosure clause, is something that both parties have to abide by till the end of time.
Typically, publishing rights expire after X number of years, meaning that the artist can regain control of their rights after the contract ends. However, some contracts still include the in perpetuity clause – meaning that you’ll hand over your rights forever – or until the copyright expires. Other phrasings that still mean “in perpetuity” are “life of copyright” and “indefinitely”. Seek legal advice when seeing such terminologies in contracts.
Artist push-back against “In Perpetuity” Contracts
Artists at all levels are battling an arcane music industry that enables “in perpetuity” contracts to even exist. More than 1450 global creatives have signed an open letter, demanding label heads to negotiate better deals for artists and songwriters. Toxic industry deals have been brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prevented artists from earning their keep through touring and forced low-to-mid-tier artists and songwriters to have side-hustles or change their career altogether to pay their rent.
In the same Forbes article, talent manager Natalie Prospere commented, “It doesn’t make sense just to be affiliated with a company that’s not helping move your career forward and help you earn money.”
She continued, “And then there’s the retention period. Some of these deals are in perpetuity, where this company is going to be collecting half your earnings from these songs forever.”.
It’s worth noting that in some cases, an in perpetuity contract may be worth it e.g. if an artist is giving up their rights in one state or one region. This is partly because, if push comes to shove, the law may be on their side, as certain states are against never-ending contracts, and can assist one party to get out of such a contract if things get too toxic.