Friday, June 16, 2006

The Gripes of Wrath

You're a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. Through luck of the wheel,you are assigned an interesting dispute over termination rights in the works of a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning American author. Yet, you can't write to save your life. Here is Exhibit A, from the very beginning of the opinion in Steinbeck v. McIntosh & Otis, Inc., 2006 WL 1586547 (S.D.N.Y. June 8, 2006):

"Given the said length of copyright protection, early in which young creators often less than advantageously contract for long terms with publishers, etc., and it also being the way of the world that a number of such young composers, artists and authors, from time to time, such as John Steinbeck writing his first book in 1929, cannot predict the high stature they would attain, and the popular prominence of their works in musical and literary consciousness-not to mention the eventual high financial rewards to them and their families their work can command, our copyright laws have come to recognize this, and accordingly, in the statute, provide opportunities for such a creator and/or his or her family to terminate-and recapture-rights previously granted others, allowing creators or their heirs appropriate reward for the artistic gifts to our culture."

That, dear readers, is one sentence. The issues raised in the case are a precis of the confusing intersection of provisions governing "old Act" works, caught up in family feuds emanating from multiple marriages: wives against grandchildren, and grandchildren against grandchildren. Frankly, it is hard to give a damn as a character in another writer's novel put it, but the opinion is one those who labor in this dysfunctional garden should read.


Anonymous said...

Wait...maybe this was a case about the Faulkner estate.

Anonymous said...

Judge Owen is someone who makes me glad I practice in Los Angeles. He (wrongly) asserts that the widow owns the entire termination right and issues an opinion that simply ignores the Ninth Circuit's contrary conclusion in the Winnie the Pooh case that a post-1977 grant which superseded a pre-78 grant by an author would avoid a section 304(c) statutory termination.

I have no passionate attachment to either outcome, but you'd think Owen would at least have talked about it.

William Patry said...

Dear Anonymous in LA:

The lack of reference to Winnie the Pooh - and Tigger too - is surprising. The other side in Milne has pointed out Owen's opinion in a supplemental brief opposing Milne's cert petition.