American Bar Association
Media Alerts
Media Alerts - Sixth Circuit: song no longer controlled by author's son after siblings successfully terminate copyright assignment
Decrease font size
Increase font size
July 27, 2016
  Sixth Circuit: song no longer controlled by author's son after siblings successfully terminate copyright assignment
Headline: Song "I'll Fly Away" no longer controlled by author's son after son's siblings successfully terminate copyright assignment in his favor.

Case: Brumley v. Albert R. Brumley & Sons, Inc.

Area of law: intellectual property, Copyright Act, contract law

Issue presented: Can descendants terminate a songwriter's copyright assignment to his son, so that royalties will be shared among all the songwriter's descendants, when the song was first assigned under the former Copyright Act but was later assigned again (to the same son) under the current Copyright Act?

Brief summary: A songwriter assigned his copyrights to his son. After he died, his widow signed a bill of sale purporting to re-memorialize the earlier assignment to the son. Because the song was a long-time religious favorite that was also covered by famous performers, the son's siblings tried to terminate the assignment so that all the children could share royalties. The Sixth Circuit held that the siblings complied with the current Copyright Act and thus effectively terminated the songwriter's earlier assignment to the son. The court reasoned that a majority of the songwriter's descendants had exercised their termination rights under the current Copyright Act's provision allowing one assignment termination. Thus, all six of the songwriter's children (or their spouses or children) will now share equally in the royalties.

Extended summary: Late in the 1920s, Albert Brumley composed "I'll Fly Away" while working in cotton fields in Oklahoma. He sold this song to a publishing firm that he later bought. Once acquired, he and his wife, Goldie, ran this publishing firm until they sold the firm and the firm's music catalog to two of their sons, Robert and William, in the mid-1970s. After the firm's sale and Albert's death, Goldie gave Robert and William a bill of sale that re-assigned and retransferred Albert's works, copyrights, and rights to future copyright renewals for one dollar and other consideration.

Twenty years after Goldie's death, the Brumley siblings fought over the royalties for "I'll Fly Away," which had recently been covered by Johnny Cash and Alison Kraus. In 2008, four Brumley siblings sent a termination notice to Robert intending to cut off his exclusive rights to royalties. The siblings wanted to share the royalties equally. The four siblings recorded their termination notice with the U.S. Copyright Office shortly after serving Robert with his notice.

When Robert challenged the assignment termination, the district court held that Albert had never exercised his termination rights, so they survived him and were transferred to his wife and his descendants. The district court concluded that upon Albert's death, Albert's widow owned a one-half interest in Albert's works, and their children shared the other half interest. Further, the district court concluded that during her ownership, Goldie lacked the power to terminate by herself. A majority of the interest-holders must authorize a transfer; Goldie was not a controlling majority, so her attempted assignment was ineffective.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that upon Goldie's death, each Brumley child, their spouse, or their child, then controlled a one-sixth share of Albert's interests in his work. The court reasoned that because four of the six children agreed to terminate Robert's exclusive interests in 2008, their termination was valid under the current Copyright Act. As such, Robert Brumley was no longer the sole assignee of his father's song "I'll Fly Away." Instead, all six of Albert Brumley's children - or their spouses or children - will share the royalties equally.

Panel: SILER, SUTTON, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

Date of issued opinion: May 16, 2016

Docket number: 15-5429

Decided: May 16, 2016

Decision: Affirmed.

Counsel: ARGUED: Barry I. Slotnick, LOEB & LOEB LLP, New York, New York, for Appellants. Larry L. Crain, CRAIN, SCHUETTE & ASSOCIATES, LLC., Brentwood, Tennessee, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Barry I. Slotnick, Jonathan N. Strauss, Brittany Schaffer, LOEB & LOEB LLP, New York, New York, for Appellants. Larry L. Crain, CRAIN, SCHUETTE & ASSOCIATES, LLC., Brentwood, Tennessee, for Appellees.

Author of opinion: SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

Case alert author: Peter J. Mancini, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

Case alert circuit supervisor: Professor Mark Cooney

Link to the case: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/op...ns.pdf/16a0118p-06.pdf

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 07/27/2016 02:40 PM     6th Circuit  

FuseTalk Enterprise Edition - © 1999-2018 FuseTalk Inc. All rights reserved.

Discussion Board Usage Agreement

Back to Top