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‘Eye of the Tiger’ co-writer fighting for ownership of song

Rocker Jim Peterik outside his Burr Ridge home talks Dave Hoekstrabout copyrights his songs. He posed with his Lamborghini with

Rocker Jim Peterik, outside his Burr Ridge home, talks to Dave Hoekstra about the copyrights to his songs. He posed with his Lamborghini with vanity plates. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:28AM

The iconic 1982 rock anthem “Eye of the Tiger” was written for the “Rocky III” soundtrack before taking on a life of its own in sports arenas and television commercials. Now, like the punchy ambience that framed the music, Chicago rock icon Jim Peterik is fighting for the ownership of the song.

“Every song I’ve written, I feel like they’re my children,” said Peterik, who co-wrote “Eye” with Frankie Sullivan as members of Survivor.

A little-known copyright law enacted in 1978 set a 35-year limit for ownership of music, beginning with songs released in 1978. The deadline for songwriters and performers to exercise “termination rights” to take back copyrights they signed away to labels or publishing companies is Dec. 31. Instead of making a fraction of the royalties in many cases, they’ll be taking 100 percent.

Ailing record and publishing companies are expected to push back. Using legal arguments, they will try to hold on to songs that can still make them money.

But Peterik, in a conversation on his backyard patio in the southwest suburbs, said the matter “is about saving artists and writers from unscrupulous publishing deals. It’s a godsend for the songwriter.”

“Eye of the Tiger” was a hit when released and it has had amazing stamina: TV shows, ads and other films have used it. The song is also a staple at sporting events — it opens with driving guitars and crashing drums and cymbals. With its declaration of “Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival,” it provides a stirring soundtrack to live athletic contests.

“When I get my publishing back, I’ll be making twice as much on a ball game that uses ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ ” Peterik said.

Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association, told Peterik about “recapturing” control in 2007. Through Herbison, Peterik met Brent McBride, who co-founded Copyright Recapture in 2004 with his brother Wes and their father Jim McBride, who wrote the Alan Jackson No. 1 hits “Chattahoochee” and “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.”

“They knew I have a lot of friends in the business, especially from the ’70s and ’80s, which is central to this,” Peterik said. “I’ve turned on Sammy Hagar, Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special to this, other musicians who don’t know anything about it.”

Peterik, who was born in blue collar Berwyn and is now 60, wrote “Vehicle” in 1970 as a member of the Ides of March, a band he started with his high school classmates. He would go on to co-write the .38 Special hits “Hold on Loosely” (1981), “Caught Up in You” (1982) and “Wide Eyed Southern Boys” (1983), with the band’s guitarist Dan Barnes. Peterik also wrote “Heavy Metal” with Hagar (1981).

The artists who already have served notice of termination or have already got songs back include Bryan Adams, Bob Dylan, George Jones, Tom Petty, the Estate of Buddy Holly and the Estate of Ira Gershwin.

“If you signed your publishing deal after 1978, you get your publishing back 35 years from the signing,” Peterik said.

“If you signed prior to 1978, it’s 56 years. When I registered for recapture there was a controversy with Warner/Chappell [his parent company] if it was 1978 or 1977. They issued the contract in 1977. But I didn’t sign it until 1978. I got in under the wire. So under this clause, in 2017 [35 years after publication] I get my publishing back for ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ which is enormous.”

“Eye,” he said, is “one of the biggest copyrights of all time — it’s in the top five with ‘White Christmas’ and ‘We Will Rock You.’ ”

Regaining the song would give him “the option to keep it with Warner if they make me the right offer, keep it for myself, but I would have to administer it [solicit spots, do paperwork for offers, etc.], which is not what I do. Or I could sell it to the highest bidder — any publishing company that would want it. I’ve already had pre-offers. But it ain’t a bird in the hat until it’s the bird in the hand.”

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The Recording Industry Association of America declined comment. But record labels may argue that performers were “workers for hire” as employees of the label rather than authors or owners of their art.

“There have been issues when publishers in the late ’70s or before that would throw in ‘work for hire’ in a standard publishing agreement in an attempt to retain those works for perpetuity,” said McBride. “They’re not. They never paid health insurance, taxes, Social Security. It was strictly a rider contract.”

“Work for hire is usually a fee and luckily I didn’t settle for a fee,” said Peterik. “They give you $15,000, you don’t get anything else. I wouldn’t have done that and nor would Frankie.”

Los Angeles music attorney Chris Castle predicts, “What’s going to happen is that these artists will show up and say, ‘I’ve got this right.’ The labels will say, ‘I’ll fight you to the bitter end — but how about we take another look at your deal?’”

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How does this affect Jack and Jill Music Fan?

“A lot of these acts who have had their titles deleted from the physical catalog can’t get CDs made to sell at shows,” said Castle, who serves on the legal committee of the American Association of Independent Music. “That is a big beef with a lot of artists. We have independent artists who make at least half their revenue from selling CDs at shows. All those issues will come out now.”

Jingle usage is Peterik’s biggest source of licensing.

“Quarter of a million for a good campaign,” he said. “For movie usage, anywhere up to $100,000. For television, $15,000 to $25,000 for usage.” The front of Peterik’s jet-black hair is dyed purple. He smiled and ran his fingertips across his eyes.

“I just did an ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for Maybelline,” he said. “That was a good paycheck. These things are always coming in.”

“Eye of the Tiger” has been used in spots for Starbucks and a Spirit Airlines campaign based around golfer Tiger Woods.

Peterik shares the copyright 50-50 with Sullivan. “Every opportunity needs cooperation from his publishing company and mine,” Peterik said.

“Frankie and I share custody if his name is on the copyright. I gave him permission to use “Eye of the Tiger” on Starbucks. I could have vetoed it. I didn’t. . . . What’s good for Survivor is still good for me.”

Although ownership to “Eye” is in play, and he has filed for recapture of his .38 Special tunes, “Vehicle,” his hit for the Ides of March, “wasn’t subject to recapture because that was in 1970. I won’t get that back in my lifetime.”

Copyright Recapture has 125 songwriters, songwriter estates, artists who are writers and artists who are terminating their masters, according to McBride.

Though Peterik no longer is a member of Survivor, he lives a very comfortable life. But some songwriters looking to recapture their songs need the money.

“We have a number of Hall of Fame writers who are coming around and saying, ‘We need to do this for ourselves, we need to do this for our family,’ ”McBride said.

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