The Pink Panther
On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in a dispute over rights to a 1962 story treatment for the movie “The Pink Panther.” Co-author Maurice Richlin had transferred his rights to the Mirisch Corporation, which made The Pink Panther. (The other co-author was Blake Edwards). Richlin’s heirs asserted he was a co-author of the film (through two routes). The district court rejected the heirs claims and the court of appeals, per Judge Wardlaw affirmed.
One can appreciate the heirs' view that they might have some rights. Richlin and Edwards first wrote a treatment. Then they entered into a work for hire agreement with Mirisch for the screenplay. Ten days they later executed a broad assignment that included the treatment. The treatment was never registered. The movie came out in 1963 and bore a notice with that year date, but the certificate of registration gave 1964 as the publication date. Richlin died in 1990; the film was renewed in 1991. Richlin heirs did not assert a renewal right at that time.
The court rejected the claim that co-authorship in the treatment vested Richlin (and his heirs) with a co-ownership claim in the movie, noting among other facts, that Richlin (unlike Edwards) did not exercise control over the creation of the movie. This seems correct to me.
The opinion also revisits ground thoroughly plowed in Batjac Productions Inc. v. Goodtimes Home Video Corp., 160 F.3d 1223 (9th Cir. 1998), regarding the status of an unpublished screenplay and its publication in the movie based on it. The court of appeals recited that Richlin's heirs abandoned an argument that publication of the movie and renew of it also renewed their interest in the treatment, since the treatment was not renewed and therefore would have fallen into the public domain (to the extent contained in the movie). But the nature of the heirs legal claims -- common law or statutory -- can't alter the legal fact that the treatment was published when it was included in the motion picture with permission, to the extent the movie incorporated those elements, and there was no allegation that the elements of the treatment outside of those contained in the movie were otherwise copied.
I may once again (this is a revised post in light of a helpful Anonymous comment) be missing something, but I still don't see why the Richlin case breaks any new ground
Meanwhile in another state within the Ninth Circuit, Oregon, the Legislative Counsel Committee voted unanimously not to assert their alleged copyright claims. Kudos to Carl Malamud and many others who participated in the hearings and in raising the issues. Carl has posted videos of the hearings here, itself a wonderful example of open government.