Hank Williams Song Notebook Charges Dismissed

by Tamera H. BennettMarch 15, 2007

A Davidson County, Tennessee Criminal Sessions Judge dismissed warrants today against Francine Boykin and Steven Shutts in the alleged theft of a song notebook containing unpublished lyrics written by Hank Williams, Sr.

The song notebook was in the possession of Sony/ATV Music, the music publishing company that controls the bulk of Williams' song catalog. Ms. Boykin testified the song notebook was in a box marked "trash." Ms. Boykin proceeded to sell the song notebook to music collector Steven Shutts for an undisclosed price. The song notebook is valued at more than a quarter million dollars.

Boykin and Shutts will no longer have to defend criminal actions of theft, but they are also defendants in a civil action brought by Sony/ATV.

What does Shutts gain by owning the song notebook? If allowed to keep the song notebook, Shutts clearly has a valuable piece of musical history. But, it is important to understand, that even if Shutts retains ownership of the song notebook, he does not gain ownership to the copyrights in the individual lyrics, writings or the compilation of all of these things in the notebook.

The copyright in the song notebook will most likely reside in Sony/ATV as Hank Williams, Sr. would have been under contract as a songwriter with a predecessor to Sony/ATV. Owning a copy or even an original of an item, does not transfer ownership of the copyright.

Because Hank Williams, Sr. died in 1953, the typical assumption would be that songs written by him are governed by the 1909 Copyright Act. If the songs are truly "unpublished" or a copyright application was not filed prior to January 1, 1978, this is an incorrect assumption. The Copyright Act of 1976 governs works created prior to January 1, 1978 but not published or copyrighted prior to this date.