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Copyright Termination Disputes Continue, This Time it’s a Roger Miller Case
Picture of Tootsies Orchid Lounge, a famous Honky Tonk, Courtesy of WikiCommons and Author Kathleen Conklin.
This firm has published extensively on the complex area of copyright renewals and termination or assignments. A recent Sixth Circuit case illustrates one strand of that nuanced area of copyright law.
Famed musician Roger Miller, best known for his hit song “King of the Road,” assigned his copyrights to A Sony predecessor entity in 1964. The work at the time was governed by the 1909 Act and so his assignment was for the first 28 year term and the renewal 28 year term. As the Supreme Court had long held since the Fred Fisher and Miller Music cases, those assignments of the renewal terms were in fact valid if the author was living at the time of renewal. At the time of the assignment, the logic goes, the author has only a contingency to assign but at the time renewal is possible that contingency springs to life and the assignment, if alive, is effective.
In anticipation of the second 28 year term, Sony filed for the renewal term with the Copyright Office in April and May 1992 for the renewal period which was to begin January 1, 1993. Roger Miller was alive at the time the applications were filed, but died on October 25, 1992. His estate took the position that the renewal was not valid for Sony and thus that Sony’s sales of the song were infringing sales, and that the interest never vested because Roger Miller died before January 1, 1993. Sony argued that Miller only needed to be alive up to the time the application was filed and, fi sop, the application was effective to confer the 1964 assignment interest to Sony.
The Sixth Circuit agreed with Sony, and held that under the language of the Copyright Act once an application is filed in the proper time frame, the renewal interest is effectively conveyed as of the beginning of the renewal term. In other words, the renewal copyright vests in any party entitled to it at the time the application is made.
The second 28-year term expires in 2021 and the Roger Miller estate may then secure the previously-assigned copyrights back for the last 39 years of their life if they comply properly with the Copyright Act’s dictates for terminating assignments. Those complexities have been discussed in the famous Superman case, which this firm has written extensively about (see Publications Section).
The published case is entitled Roger Miller v. Sony, 10-5363 (6th Cir. Feb 22, 2012).