Bensen on Cambridge Literary

Bensen on Cambridge Literary


In Cambridge Literary Properties, Ltd. v. Goebel Porzellenfabrik G.m.b.H., the First Circuit ruled that the Copyright Act's three-year statute of limitations applied to a state law claim for an accounting for profits from an alleged co-author. Analyzing the case, Eric E. Bensen begins:
      Cambridge Literary traces its roots back to the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters at the Convent of Siessen in Germany in the 1930s, where the young Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel created the drawings of children in folk dress that would later be embodied by the famous figurines bearing her name. In 1934, Sister Hummel, the Convent and a German publishing company, Emil Fink Verlag (“Fink”), entered into an agreement authorizing Fink to publish Sister Hummel’s works in book form. The book, Das Hummel-Buch, was published that year and included poems specially written by a Viennese poet, Margarete Seemann, to accompany Sister Hummel’s illustrations.
      The following year, another German firm, Goebel, entered into an agreement with Sister Hummel and the Convent under which Goebel received the exclusive right to manufacture and market porcelain figurines based on Sister Hummel’s drawings. Goebel contracted with Schmid Brothers, Inc. (“Schmid”) to co-distribute the figurines in the United States. Theirs was a stormy relationship. In the late 1960s, Henry Herrman, attorney for Schmid, entered the scene to help Schmid with Hummel-related litigations. By 1971, he had obtained for Schmid an assignment of copyrights from Sister Hummel’s family (Sister Hummel had died in 1946). Goebel, on the other hand, purchased Fink’s copyrights in Hummel-related works, including the U.S. copyright on Das Hummel-Buch, in 1971.
      As the result of a 1992 litigation between them, Schmid and Goebel entered into a consent judgment providing that they each owned an undivided one-half interest in the copyright for Das Hummel-Buch. The next year, Schmid went into bankruptcy. Subsequently, Goebel acquired Schmid’s right to the book thus perfecting, it appeared, its ownership interest in the Das Hummel-Buch copyright.
      Herrman, however, had other ideas. It occurred to him that Seemann’s heirs might have retained an interest in the Das Hummel-Buch by virtue of its Seemann poetry. To exploit that interest, Herrman formed Cambridge Literary Properties (“Cambridge”). He located Seemann’s two heirs and obtained assignments of Seemann’s original rights in the Das Hummel-Buch copyright, including any rights to accrued claims against others for infringement, from the first heir on September 6, 1995 (the “Romanowicz Agreement”) and from the second in February of 1999 (the “Cermanovic-Kuzmanovic Agreement”).