Smith v. Casey

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright, Standing
  • Date Filed: 01-22-2014
  • Case #: No. 13–12351
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 1139
  • Westlaw Citation: 2014 WL 223599
  • Full Text Opinion

Standing was found when a musician held legal rights to his work in exchange for royalties.

Opinion (Kravitch, C.J.): In 1979, Ronald Louis Smith ("Smith") wrote and recorded the song "Spank" for Sunshine Sound Enterprises ("Sunshine"). Sunshine released the record in early 1979 and registered a copyright for the sound recording. Under Smith's songwriter contract, Smith would sell, assign, and deliver his rights in a composition in exchange for scheduled royalties for different uses of the work. Harrick Music, Inc. ("Harrick") a publishing company for Sunshine, registered a copyright with Smith as composer and Harrick as claimant. Smith's relationship with Sunshine deteriorated after “Spank” was released. As a result, Smith signed a Release Agreement with the company in 1980, terminating his recording contract and mutually releasing all claims and obligations under it “except as otherwise provided” in the release. Between 1980 and early 2011, Smith acquiesced to Harrick's administration of the copyright. In 2012, Smith sent a cease-and-desist letter to Harrick, and filed a notice of termination with Copyright Office. Harrick continued using the copyright and Smith brought suit. Harrick moved for dismiss for lack of standing. The district court granted Harrick's motion, because Smith had not independently filed a separate copyright registration. The Smith's estate appealed and the Court of Appeals held that an author who assigns his legal rights to a work in exchange for royalties from its exploitation has a beneficial interest sufficient for statutory standing under §501(b). In contrast, an author who creates a work within the scope of her employment under a “work for hire” agreement and lacks statutory standing to maintain an infringement suit. Because the estate had standing to maintain the suit, the district court's ruling was REVERSED, and the case was REMANDED.

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