Film Friday- Copyright Termination Rights Starting to Take Effect

The story goes that big production studios, among other businesses in entertainment, have long had the stronghold on copyrights encapsulated in entertainment projects. Any work that studios were not able to create in-house would necessitate outsourcing to independent contractors in the industry. Whether it was a screenplay, or as we have here a film score, studios have obtained copyright ownership over items through works-made-for-hire. However, there are instances when the work created does not qualify as a work-made-for-hire, thereby forcing the studios to obtain copyright ownership through an assignment. In the event that an assignment of copyright ownership occurs, the 1976 Copyright Act states that 35 years after the initial publication the author is able to terminate the copyrights transferred and reclaim copyright ownership.

Ennio Morricone claims that he is the creator of the films scores that he transferred over the copyright ownership for in an assignment to Bixio Music Group. He is now seeking to reclaim ownership by invoking his termination right. Bixio Music Group, the company that obtained copyright ownership to these film scores, claims that Ennio operated under a work-made-for-hire arrangement. If that were the case, then Bixio would be considered the creator of the work and their copyrights would not be subject to termination.

Ennio has filed his suit in New York federal court and will hope to establish that he simply assigned his copyright ownership to Bixio. In doing so, Ennio hopes to now earn royalties on his scores and the exclusive right to license his scores as well. What makes this case of high interest is that it is now the third lawsuit involving this termination right in the past two months. This issue will only gain steam as we move forward with other creators or their heirs, invoking this inalienable termination right upon the 35th year of existence.

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