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Roger Miller Music Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publishing, LLC

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 02-22-2012
Case #: 10-5363
Moore, Rogers, Hood
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0049p-06.pdf

Copyright: If an assignee becomes a registered owner of the copyright and renewal rights in a song while the author is alive and before the rights have vested, then the author cannot will those rights to someone else upon his death.

Opinion (Moore): Roger Miller (“Miller”) assigned his copyright and renewal rights in certain songs to Sony/ATV Publishing, LLC (“Sony”) in return for royalty payments on the songs. Miller then created a will that gave the interests to his wife Mary. Upon Miller’s death in 1992, Mary assigned the interests to Roger Miller Music Inc. (“RMM”). Sony registered for renewal rights to these songs in 1992, prior to Miller’s death, and subsequently continued to use the songs and pay royalties to RMM. In 2004, RMM brought suit against Sony for copyright infringement, and sought a declaration that RMM was the owner of the renewal rights to the songs. The district court found in favor of Sony based on the fact that RMM accepted royalty payments from Sony without objection. Both parties appealed. On remand, the district court said that Sony did not own the renewal rights since Miller died before the rights would have vested in January 1993, and there was no list of assignees in the will. On appeal, the Court found that because Sony applied for the renewal rights when Miller was alive, and became an assignee before the rights vested, Sony owned the rights when Miller died and therefore could not be liable to RMM for copyright infringement. REMANDED for entry in favor of Sony.