In a 1986 interview with Fortune magazine, investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet said that the “perfect amount” of money for parents to leave their children is “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” Before musician Ray Charles died in 2004, the singer gathered most of his 12 children to sign agreements to waive any claim to his estate in exchange for a $500,000 irrevocable trust. Charles left most of his estate to the Ray Charles Foundation, a charity that supports the vision- or hearing-impaired.
In 2010, seven of Charles’ surviving children filed termination notices for about 60 of the pianist’s classic songs. As the New York Times noted, termination rights are “one of the entertainment industry’s most contentious issues,” and the foundation responded last year by suing the children. The charity claimed that the children did not have the rights to reclaim the songs’ copyrights, and they had breached their prior agreements. The foundation “suggested that if Charles’ children were doing something improper, it had standing to either challenge the termination notices or sue the children for copyright infringement because it was the ‘beneficial owner’ of the songs since the publishing company was cutting the Foundation royalty checks.”
However, a federal judge in California ruled that the foundation could not interfere in the children’s attempts to recover the rights to the songs. The Reporter noted that the agreements could not include a waiver against termination because that would qualify as an “agreement to the contrary.” US District Court Judge Audrey Collins said that if Charles owned his songs when he died, the “Copyright Act prevents the Court from interpreting the agreements signed by Defendants as limiting their statutory termination rights.”
The foundation’s president, Valerie Ervin, said it would appeal the decision, and this will be a case that many recording artists will be watching very closely. You can learn more about intellectual property litigation by visiting our website. If you need help enforcing or drafting contracts, Los Angeles business litigation attorney Robert G. Klein has over 25 years of experience helping victims of copyright infringement. Contact our firm at (323) 405-1002 or fill out the form on this page to have our Los Angeles copyright infringement attorney review your case.
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