The 1976 Copyright Act provides for the termination of copyright transfers. Even if an artist or songwriter signed a contract with a record company or music publisher which purports to transfer all rights in a work in perpetuity, the Copyright Act provides that the author can terminate that grant and demand that the rights revert to the author in a shorter period of time. Recording artists and songwriters are now entitled to terminate their contractual transfers and demand back control of their copyrights; songwriters can demand return of their musical compositions from music publishers and recording artists and record producers can demand return of their sound recordings from the record companies.
Generally speaking, for copyright grants made on or after January 1, 1978 (the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act) the termination period is 35 years under Section 203 of the Copyright Act. For pre-1978 works the termination period is 56 years after copyright was originally secured under Section 304 (c)-(d). For grants on or after 1978, termination may be exercised anytime during a 5 year period beginning at the end of 35 years from the execution of the grant or, if the grant concerns the right of publication of the work, then the period begins on the sooner of 35 years after publication or 40 years after execution of the grant. Although there are certain formalities which must be complied with to effectuate transfer, this essentially means that recording artists and songwriters were entitled to start exercising their right of termination on post-1978 works as of the start of 2013.
Back when the 1976 Copyright Act was drafted, few practitioners would have envisioned a world where the artists might not need the record companies to finance, manufacture, warehouse and distribute their records. Back then the expectation was that, although any particular artist could exercise the termination right, what would effectively happen is that the label and artist would simply be forced to renegotiate a deal to continue working together (either with the artist or with the heirs of the deceased songwriter or artist). Now, in the current digital transmission age, this is no longer necessarily true. Any artist can demand back the copyright in the masters and then simply offer them directly to fans on the artist’s website or the artist can license the rights to an online aggregator or digital streaming service with little or no expense. This is particularly true in the case of the recordings of certain well-established artists because those artists would not need the record company’s ongoing support to finance the recording costs to create recordings, store product nor require the funds for promotion and marketing. The more digital the music business becomes the more obsolete the large record labels may become for established artists. High profile artists with established fan bases and large catalogs of music like Blondie, the Cars, Bruce Springsteen and others would have no need for much in the way of advertising and marketing, and no need for manufacturing, distributing or warehousing of their product. Simple ownership and possession of the digitized masters would be sufficient to conduct business.
From what I have researched, it appears that in most cases the artist has a fair likelihood of prevailing over the record company on this point when the CCNV "work for hire" factors are applied (i.e., artist not an employee (e.g., no unemployment benefits paid/withheld, etc.), artist not under the direct supervision and control of the record company during the creative process, etc.) - so I expect that the record companies will make a decision to negotiate with the bigger superstar artists and then turn the other cheek with the recordings generating less income and just let them revert back to the artists (since a bad precedent in a lawsuit could open the floodgates for other artists to demand back their masters).