Baldwin v. EMI Feist Catalog, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

805 F.3d 18 (2d Cir. 2018)

The 1976 Copyright Act termination provisions are relevant to rights granted originally or by superseding agreement after January 1, 1978.

Relevant Facts

Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie (the plaintiffs) wrote “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” in the 1930s. In 1934, when copyright law still used a dual-term structure, the plaintiffs sold the song’s initial copyrights to EMI Feist Catalog, Inc.’s (the defendant). In 1951, the plaintiffs granted the defendant renewal rights until 1990. In 1976, Congress overhauled the copyright laws, replacing the dual-term structure with one term lasting the author’s life plus 50 years. For works already in renewal, the 1976 act extended renewal terms to 75 years, but only for rights created after January 1, 1978. In 1981, the plaintiffs negotiated a new agreement transferring “all rights and interests whatsoever” to the defendant. In 1998, another act again extended copyright terms still within renewal to 95 years after initial registration, effectively extending the song’s renewal term until 2029. In 2007, the plaintiffs served a termination notice purporting to terminate the 1981 renewal rights effective December 15, 2016, but it was never actually recorded. The plaintiffs served and recorded another termination notice in 2012 designating December 15, 2021 as the termination date. The defendant countered that its present rights stemmed from the 1951 grant, not the 1981 grant, making its current rights not terminable under §203 of the Copyright Act. The plaintiffs sued, asking the court to declare either the 2007 or 2012 termination notice valid.

The trial court granted the defendant summary judgment, reasoning that the 1981 grant transferred only additional renewal rights, so the defendant’s current underlying rights stemmed from the 1951 grant and was not subject to termination under §203. The plaintiffs appealed.

Issue

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Holding & Reasoning

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Concurrence

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Dissent

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Last updated:

December 29, 2020

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Procedural History

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Citations

805 F.3d 18 (2d Cir. 2018)