Nashville is both the hotbed for country music and now, apparently, copyright litigation. In the most recent decision of significance from the Middle District of Tennessee on copyright issues, Roger Miller Music Inc.; Mary A. Miller. v. Sony/ ATV Publishing, LLC. the Sixth Circuit reversed a nearly $1M copyright infringement award concerning song royalties. The court framed the “interstitial” issue of copyright law as whether the songwriter’s assignment of copyright rights was effective. The Sixth Circuit ultimately agreed with Sony (the assignee) that the songwriter only need to survive until the time at which the renewal application was filed. If the author dies prior to renewal, ownership of the renewal copyright passes to the statutory successors regardless of other assignments. While the court confessed that the Copyright Act utilized “convoluted syntax,” it nevertheless concluded that the statutory language supported Sony’s argument, which meant that it had the rights to the relevant songs via assignment even though the author died prior to the renewal. The application proved sufficient to protect Sony’s rights.
As we have previously reported, some other copyright decisions are making their way up to the Sixth Circuit (also from Nashville), and it will be interesting to see how the court’s jurisprudence on this issue evolves as more of these cases flow through the pipeline.