Copyright Grant Termination: 2009 and 2010 Cases of Interest

Copyright grant terminations under sections 203 and 304 are hot topics in the news and at the courthouse the past 12 months.  2013 will be the first year that terminations can be effective under 17 USC Section 203.... if notice of termination was proper.   For a general overview of the termination process click here for an article written by music lawyer Tamera H. Bennett for the Texas Entertainment Law Institute. Some of the copyright grant terminations cases gainingrecent attention include:

  • U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of John Steinbeck estate.  The Second Circuitoverturned a lower court's decision and maintained copyrights assigned to Penguin Book Group from Steinbeck's widow.  This extremely fact specific case turned on the fact that Steinbeck's wife terminated and renegotiated Steinbeck's 1939 agreement with Penguin.  This renegotiation in 1994 "cut-off" the rights of Steinbeck's children from his first marriage.  Penguin Group (USA) v. Steinbeck, 537 F.3d 193 (2d Cir. 2008), cert. denied 2009. 
  • A Southern District of New York judge ruled the heirs of comic artist Jack Kirby, were subject to transactional jurisdiction under a New York statute by sending copyright transfer termination notices pursuant to 17 USC 304(c).  More information about the case is found hereMarvel Worldwide, Inc. v. Kirby, 2010 WL 1655253 (April 14, 2010)
  • Charlie Daniels' “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,”was written in 1979, but Copyright Termination could be subject to agreements he signed with Universal Music Publishing Group pre-1978.  This possible "gap" in the copyright law between Section 203 and Section 304 is under review at the Copyright Office.
  • Sherlock Holmes is not yet PD.  Some of the early Sherlock Holmes' works are public domain, but many are not yet.  Some works were recaptured in 1981 and will remain under U.S. Copyright until 2023, although protection has long expired in the U.K.
  • Superman sends valid copyright termination notices.  This blog post gives some great insight to what is required to send a valid notice of termination under 17 USC Section 304(c).  Siegel v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., CV-04-8400-SGL (RZx),  2009 WL 2512842 (C.D. Cal. 2009).