On Thursday, March 23rd I presented a Lunch & Learn at the University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property.
I covered 203 copyright transfer termination rights mechanics, the post-2013 response of copyright creators and copyright-industries when the first termination “window” opened for post-1977 transfers, and stakeholder and commentator forecasts about whether the anticipated termination tidal wave of destruction is more academic than real.
Copyright transfer termination permits a copyright creator to reclaim control of his or her copyright several decades after transferring the right. This applies to all copyright transfers no matter what a contract may say about a perpetual transfer. Creators cannot waive this right. But they can forfeit it if they are not careful.
In fact, some creators have already forfeited their rights if they transferred copyright in 1978 and failed to serve notice of termination by 2016.
I offered some preliminary conclusions on the future of copyright-dependent industries in light of the 203 termination right.
Watch, listen and learn!
Article Alert: Statutory Heirs Apparent explores copyright termination right succession in the entertainment industry
My latest article, Statutory Heirs Apparent: Reclaiming Copyright in the Age of Author-Controlled, Author-Benefiting Transfers (119 W. Va. L. Rev 297 (2016)), explores the intersectionality of estate succession laws and copyright and the unintended conflict between a deceased author’s testamentary freedom and the right of the decedent’s statutory heirs to terminate the decedent author’s lifetime transfers.
A number of notable songwriters have successfully reclaimed control over their copyrights from recording companies: Bruce Springstein, Loretta Lynn, Tom Petty, and an original “Village People” member, Victor Willis, for that perennial Karaoke favorite “YMCA”. They all lived long enough to see the copyright termination window open for their respective rights.
However, some authors are not so fortunate.
Case in point: The Ninth Circuit recently heard Ray Charles Foundation v. Robinson, 795 F.3d 1109 (9th Cir. 2015). That case presents facts analogous to the problem the proposed amendment seeks to resolve; that is, when a statutory heir asserts a termination interest clearly contrary to the decedent author’s wishes.
In that case, Charles named his private charitable foundation as sole heir of his rights and recipient of his royalties during his life and thereafter. In fact, the Foundation is totally funded by the royalties and is prohibited from receiving any other means of support. Separately, he negotiated with his children (all 12 of them) to waive any right to his estate in exchange for half million dollars into an irrevocable trust for each. He died before the termination window opened. The perfect storm. Read more…
Statutory Heirs Apparent?: Reclaiming Copyright in the Age of Author-Controlled, Author-Benefiting Transfers, 119 W. Va. Law Rev. __ (2016).
This Article explores the intersection and disconnect between copyright law and estates law when a copyright owner dies before having the opportunity to exercise her termination right of an inter vivos copyright transfer. Specifically, I explore the impact of a statutory heir’s copyright transfer termination right on the original author’s testamentary freedom to the extent the decedent’s nonprobate disposition of assets is contrary to the “statutory will” disposition found in the Copyright Act.
Although copyright transfers made by will are not subject to a termination right, no such exception is made for an author’s lifetime transfers into vehicles controlled by the author. Examples of such transfers include those made into a performing artist’s loan-out company or a songwriter’s lifetime transfer of musical composition and sound recording copyrights into a self-settled irrevocable trust or charitable foundation.
The practical effect is that an heir (defined by the Act as a spouse, child or grandchild) who inherits the right to terminate any lifetime copyright transfer (including those just described), may exercise that right and successfully reclaim copyright ownership against the decedent’s intent to transfer copyright ownership at death to someone or some entity other than that statutorily prescribed heir.
I argue the termination right was intended to protect authors from being saddled for the full copyright term with bad deals made early in their careers when they had little, if any, bargaining power. The right was not intended to prevent authors from advantageous lifetime transfers into vehicles controlled by the author for prudent business, tax and estate planning reasons.
Many scholars, practitioners, and copyright transferees in the entertainment business surmised the likely impact of the first reclamation trigger date of January 1, 2013 under §203 of the 1976 Copyright Act on post-1977 transfer terminations. Some also expressed concern with the apparent distinction between, and treatment of, transfers by will and nonprobate transfers. This article focuses on what has actually transpired since that trigger date.
In addition, the article focuses on what might be done going forward to reconcile the probate and nonprobate disposition of copyrights in a way that best honors an author’s testamentary intent given what we now know from cases starting to make their way through the court system.
Prof. Evans to present paper at #WIPIP2016 Colloquium on impact of copyright transfer terminations on loan-outs & other gratuitous transfers
On February 18-19, 2016 the University of Washington Law School and Center for Advanced Study & Research on Innovation Policy (CASRIP) will host the annual Works-in-Progress Intellectual Property (WIPIP) Colloquium.
The organizers selected Professor Evans to present her work-in-progress, Reclaiming Copyright in the Age of Celebrity Loan-Outs & Gratuitous Transfers, at this esteemed IP law conference.
Many scholars, practitioners, and copyright transferees in the entertainment business surmised the likely impact of the first reclamation trigger date of January 1, 2013 under §203 of the 1976 Copyright Act on post-1977 transfer terminations. Some also expressed concern with the apparent distinction between, and treatment of, transfers by will and nonprobate transfers.
In this Article, Professor Evans focuses on what has actually transpired since that trigger date. In addition, she considers how to reconcile the probate and nonprobate dispositions of copyright termination interests in a way that best honors an author’s testamentary intent given what we can now glean in fact from the post-1977 termination cases just starting to make their way through the court system.
WIPIP is one of the largest academic conferences for U.S. IP academics fostering robust and productive discussion of intellectual property law and policy scholarship. The Colloquium provides intellectual property scholars with a forum to present their academic works-in-progress and receive early feedback from their colleagues.
That same weekend, CASRIP will also host The Forum will be held on February 18, 2016 at the Hotel Deca. The IV Asia Pacific IP Forum hosted by CASRIP will bring together founding members from UW, UC Berkeley, Waseda University, Hokkaido University, Seoul National University, Renmin University and National Taiwan University, as well as leading Pacific Rim scholars, practitioners, judges and policymakers, to discuss comparative transnational IP law in practice.
Prof. Evans explores copyright transfer terminations & probate law at TAMU Law IP Scholars Roundtable 10/9-10/10
Associate Professor Tonya M. Evans presents her work-in-progress, Reclaiming Copyright in the Ages of Celebrity Loan-Outs and Other Gratuitous Transfers at the Intellectual Property Scholars Roundtable October 9-10th at Texas A&M University School of Law.
In her article, Professor Evans argues that Congress should resolve an apparently unintended conflict between copyright law and probate law, related to a copyright creator’s testamentary freedom, found in the copyright transfer termination provisions.
The article explores a recent Ninth Circuit case, Ray Charles Foundation v. Robinson, 795 F.3d 1109 (9th Cir. 2015). That case presents facts analogous to the problem Professor Evans believes that Congress should remedy; that is, the threat to an artist’s testamentary freedom when statutory heirs assert their copyright termination interests in ways clearly contrary to the decedent author’s wishes.
This inaugural roundtable brings together intellectual property and technology law scholars, providing them with an annual forum for sharing research and peer networking. In addition to the usual work-in-progress presentations, this interdisciplinary roundtable will feature substantial commentary offered by veteran commentators and extended Q&A sessions.
Village People member & writer of YMCA uses law to reclaim his copyrights! by Professor Tonya M. Evans is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://proftevans.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/ymcasong/.
Forget Y … M … C … A.
V (which stands for victory) is Victor Willis’s new favorite letter of the alphabet. That’s because he, the “policeman” member of the Village People, successfully used a powerful right in the Copyright Act called termination of transfers to reclaim his copyright in the popular and perennial hit YMCA and other songs.
The termination right is a little known but powerful opportunity for people who’ve created copyrighted works (like a songwriter, writer, photographer, for example) and transferred them to others (a recording or publishing company, for example) to get their rights back 35 years after the transfer. It’s a right that exists regardless of what the original transfer document said. So all of that “in perpetuity” language? Forget about it. The right cannot be contracted away but it can be forever lost if not exercised in a timely or proper fashion. Read more…