Different Work Made for Hire Test Under the Copyright Act of 1909

This case applies the Copyright Act of 1909 version of “work made for hire.”  Why are we still talking about the 1909 Act when the Copyright Act of 1976 became effective on January 1, 1978?  Since the 1909 Act applies to all copyrights secured before 1/1/1978 and the first term for pre-1/1/1978 copyrights is 28 years, followed by a second term of 67 years (28 + 67 = 95), some portions of the 1909 Act remain relevant until 2072.  (1977 + 95 = 2072).  Those portions of the Copyright Act of 1909 will remain relevant throughout the careers of Millennial attorneys, and then some.  I say some portions, because the 1976 Act did away with many of the 1909 Act’s draconian requirements.

Composer and music producer Jack Urbont wrote the Iron Man theme song in 1966.  Urbont wrote theme music for a variety of other Marvel television characters.  In 2000, without Urbont’s permission, Dennis Coles (aka Ghostface Killah), Sony and Razor Sharp Records produced and released Supreme Clientele, an album spotlighting the Iron Man theme song on two tracks.  Urbont became aware of the album around early 2010 and sued Sony, Coles and Razor Sharp Records for copyright infringement in 2011.  Sony and Razor Sharp argued that the Iron Man theme was a work made for hire for Marvel and that Urbont did not own the copyright.  The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Sony and Razor Sharp.  On appeal, the Second Circuit held that Urbont raised issues of material fact regarding his copyright ownership and vacated the district court’s summary judgment ruling.

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Argentine Tango Song’s Copyright Issues More Complicated Than the Dance

Dee, my spouse, and I started taking Argentine Tango classes together last fall.  Tango is a complicated dance that takes years to learn, so it can be frustrating at times.  Despite the frustration, we very much enjoy the classes, practicas (informal dances) and social dances we attend.  One of the things I enjoy most about tango is the music!  It’s so much fun!  Tango music has a wonderful driving rhythm and is fabulously melodramatic.  A song only lasts a couple of minutes, though, so it’s enjoyable without becoming overwrought.  I’ve often thought it would be great fun to play piano in a tango band.  In the process of looking online for tango music sources, I discovered that tango music scores are available for download for free from several websites.  I was amazed.  Can I download these scores without becoming a copyright infringer?  Maybe.

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Ghost Rider Comic Copyright Dispute Confirms 1909 Act Still Relevant

Gary Friedrich Enterprises, LLC v. Marvel Characters, Inc., involves a work created before the Copyright Act of 1976, the vesting of the renewal copyright in the original author, Gary Friedrich, and the effect of a work made for hire agreement signed by Friedrich in 1978.  Friedrich, creator of the Ghost Rider comic strip, filed and received a Renewal Copyright Registration for Ghost Rider in 2007.  Friedrich filed a complaint against Marvel for copyright infringement shortly after renewing Ghost Rider’s copyright registration.  Marvel claimed that Ghost Rider was a work made for hire. 

The district court ruled that when Friedrich executed a form work for hire agreement in 1978, he assigned his rights to Marvel, including his rights in the renewal term.  The district court further granted Marvel’s motion for summary judgment, awarded damages to Marvel for Friedrich’s copyright infringement and enjoined Friedrich from using his Ghost Rider renewal registration.  The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case.

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