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Plaintiff Paul Ellington, an heir and grandson of Duke Ellington, filed this breach of contract action to recover royalties allegedly due under a royalty provision contained in a 1961 United States copyright renewal Agreement between Duke Ellington and Mills Music, Inc., now EMI Music, Inc. The Agreement assigned to a “Second Party” – defined as consisting of a group of music publishers including Mills Music – the right to renew the copyright to certain music compositions written by Duke Ellington, subject to the payment of royalties. The royalty provision of the Agreement required the Second Party to pay Duke Ellington and named members of his family a percentage of the net revenue received from a foreign publication of the musical publication. Plaintiff claimed that by using affiliated foreign subpublishers, EMI breached the Agreement by diluting Plaintiff’s share of the royalties. Supreme Court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the disputed terms of the Agreement were clear and unambiguous and that the Appellate Division correctly held that Plaintiff did not state a cause of action for breach of the Agreement. View “Ellington v. EMI Music, Inc.” on Justia Law

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When legendary blues musician Robert Johnson died intestate in 1938, he had no money and appeared to have left no assets to distribute to heirs, so no estate was opened at that time. But the increasing popularity of Johnson’s music over the years following his death led Steven LaVere, a music producer from Tennessee who owned Delta Haze Corporation, to contact Johnson’s half-sister, Carrie Thompson, about previously unpublished photographs of Johnson. Believing Thompson to be Johnson’s only heir, LaVere requested the photographs to launch a new release of Johnson’s music. The legatees of Carrie Thompson sought to recover royalties and fees from the use of two photographs that were ultimately used in the project. Among the several reasons the trial court denied their claim was that the statute of limitations had expired. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View “Anderson v. LaVere” on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a claim under Colorado law for civil theft of a copyrightable work required a trial court to instruct the jury on principles of federal copyright law. Petitioner Steward Software hired Respondent Richard Kopcho to develop and market a new software program. Steward never entered into a written agreement governing the ownership of the software with Holonyx, Inc. (one of Respondent’s multiple corporate entities) or Respondent. By the time the software was ready for testing, the relationship between the parties had become strained. Steward refused to make further payments and under Respondent’s direction, Holonyx locked Steward out of the software code and refused to turn it over. Holonyx then filed a copyright registration for the software with the U.S. Copyright Office, listing the software’s author a new corporation Respondent controlled called Ruffdogs Software, Inc. Steward sued Respondent for breach of contract and civil theft. Before trial, the parties tendered proposed jury instructions; one of Steward’s proposed instructions pertained to the ownership and registration of copyrightable works. The trial court determined that copyright law did not pertain to Steward’s civil theft claim and rejected the tendered instruction. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that ownership of the copyright in the code was irrelevant. The Court thus concluded the trial court correctly refused to instruct the jury on the principles of copyright law. The court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the trial court’s opinion.
View “Steward Software Co. v. Kopcho” on Justia Law

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In this case, the court found that subsequent editions to a book without alterations or additions should have the same copyright, because they find their only protection in the original copyright; but second or subsequent editions, with notes or other improvements, are new books, within the meaning of the copyright acts, and the authors or proprietors of the same are required to “deposit a printed copy of such book,” and “give information of copyright being secured,” as if no prior edition of the work had ever been published. The term of the copyright as to the notes or improvements, is computed from the time of recording the title thereof, and not from the time of recording the title of the original work. Copyrights afford no protection to what was not in existence at the time when they were granted.

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The court in this case examined the justifiable use of original materials, forming the basis for the fair use doctrine. The court found that , “the question of piracy, often depend upon a nice balance of the comparative use made in one of the materials of the other; the nature, extent, and value of the materials thus used; the objects of each work; and the degree to which each writer may be fairly presumed to have resorted to the same common sources of information, or to have exercised the same common diligence in the selection and arrangement of the materials.”

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This is the earliest cases identifying the compiler’s effort of a work as the critical contribution justifying copyright protection. This type of analysis came to be known as the “sweat of the brow” doctrine.

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The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a claim under Colorado law for civil theft of a copyrightable work required a trial court to instruct the jury on principles of federal copyright law. Petitioner Steward Software hired Respondent Richard Kopcho to develop and market a new software program. Steward never entered into a written agreement governing the ownership of the software with Holonyx, Inc. (one of Respondent’s multiple corporate entities) or Respondent. By the time the software was ready for testing, the relationship between the parties had become strained. Steward refused to make further payments and under Respondent’s direction, Holonyx locked Steward out of the software code and refused to turn it over. Holonyx then filed a copyright registration for the software with the U.S. Copyright Office, listing the software’s author a new corporation Respondent controlled called Ruffdogs Software, Inc. Steward sued Respondent for breach of contract and civil theft. Before trial, the parties tendered proposed jury instructions; one of Steward’s proposed instructions pertained to the ownership and registration of copyrightable works. The trial court determined that copyright law did not pertain to Steward’s civil theft claim and rejected the tendered instruction. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that ownership of the copyright in the code was irrelevant. The Court thus concluded the trial court correctly refused to instruct the jury on the principles of copyright law. The court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the trial court’s opinion. View “Steward Software Co. v. Kopcho” on Justia Law