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First off today, Eriq Gardner reports for Billboard that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that musician George Clinton will not be able to avoid losing the rights to three of his best-known songs, “One Nation Under a Groove”, “Hardcore Jollies” and “The Electric Spanking of War Babies”. Instead, the rights to those songs will be transferred to a law firm that Clinton owes money to in a ruling that may be an obstacle for other musicians looking to terminate their copyright agreements.
A lower court had ordered a receiver to transfer the rights to the law firm Hendricks & Lewis, which defended Clinton between 2005 and 2008. The firm claimed that it was owed some $1.8 million in unpaid fees and the case was sent to mandatory arbitration. However, when the court ordered the transfer in lieu of payment, Clinton claimed that it was not possible as the copyright act forbids the forced transfer of copyright. However, that does not apply to cases where the copyright had been previously transferred voluntarily.
However, the court ruled that Clinton’s music was a work for hire with the record labels, meaning that the labels were the initial rightsholders. This meant the copyrights had been transferred once already and could be forcibly removed from Clinton now. This has a huge bearing on a bevy of other artists looking to terminate their agreements with their labels under the law as copyright termination doesn’t apply to works for hire. The ruling that Clinton’s music was a work for hire could harm those cases greatly.
Next up today, Wendy Davis at MediaPost reports that Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have released their own version of the cell phone unlocking bill. Their version of the bill would not only make it legal for consumers to unlock cell phones for personal use, but also for companies to do bulk unlocking as part of their business.
Cell phone unlocking is currently unlawful under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which forbids the circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) tools. Until January of 2013, there was an exemption under the law for cell phone unlocking but it expired without a replacement.
The House recently passed a similar bill but their version barred “bulk unlocking”, leading many to worry that it would be impractical for consumers to unlock their phones. The new bill has no such limitation and is heralded by consumer rights groups.
Finally today, Eriq Gardner, this time for the Hollywood Reporter Esquire, reports that the estate of Jack Kirby has gotten even more support in his bid to take his copyright termination case to the Supreme Court, this time from three key Hollywood guilds.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), have filed a joint friend of the court brief supporting the estate and its efforts to reclaim the copyrights in several key Marvel characters including Spider-Man, X-Men and more.
Two lower courts have sided with Marvel, ruling that Kirby’s work for Marvel was a work for hire that doesn’t qualify for copyright termination but the estate is appealing to the Supreme Court. Though the Supreme Court taking up the case seemed far-fetched, several signs, including now a series of briefs, seem to be making that more likely.
That’s it for the three count today. We will be back tomorrow with three more copyright links. If you have a link that you want to suggest a link for the column or have any proposals to make it better. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I hope to hear from you.
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