Funkadelic Federal Case Shows that George Clinton Can’t Protect His Priceless Songs from Judgment Creditors

Funkadelic Federal Case Shows that George Clinton Can’t Protect His Priceless Songs from Judgment Creditors

Value doesn't always equate to money. Remember those "Priceless" MasterCard commercials.

It would be painful if "priceless" things could be forced out of our lives, say for example, to pay a debt. Imagine if a court ordered you to give up your child's finger paintings to pay a creditor. Or those yellowing Polaroids from your favorite years in Little League.

It's not a stretch to think that singer George Clinton considers his songs priceless (and valuable) and will put up a fight to maintain his ownership. In late November, Clinton was ordered to surrender the copyrights to several songs in order to pay his former lawyers. Hendricks & Lewis, PLLC v. Clinton, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168969 (W.D. Wash. Nov. 27, 2012) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers].

Hendricks & Lewis obtained two judgments against Clinton in the amounts of $1,675,639.82 and $60,786.50. Despite their efforts, Hendricks recovered less than $340,000. To recover the rest, Hendricks sought a receiver to take control of the copyrights in four Clinton sound recordings. The songs include:

  • Hardcore Jollies;
  • One Nation Under a Groove;
  • Uncle Jam Wants You; and
  • The Electric Spanking of War Babies.

"Clinton has removed certain important assets, the four Funkadelic sound recordings, from the country," Hendricks alleged, "and [he] purports to not know the identity or specific location of the holder, and declares that he has gifted others of these sound recordings ...."

Clinton created the Funkadelic master sound recordings Hardcore Jollies, One Nation Under a Groove, Uncle Jam Wants You and The Electric Spanking of War Babies pursuant to a contract with Warner Bros.

Clinton argued that the relief sought was prohibited by 17 U.S.C. § 201(e), which prevents involuntary copyright transfers. Section 201 had its genesis in the Cold War. It was enacted to keep the Soviet Union from seizing ownership of works produced by dissident authors and enforcing the American copyright to prevent distribution.

Initial agreements specifically granted the songs' copyrights to Warner Bros. Thus, Clinton, who obtained ownership of the sound recordings pursuant to a settlement agreement with Warner Bros., was merely an assignee, not the author.

 "Mr. Clinton is not entitled to the protections of § 201(e)," the court said, "because he is either an assignee of the original author or he has previously transferred the copyrights voluntarily."

Clinton's motion for rehearing attacked the findings that: 1) the sound recordings were works for hire; and 2) the assignments to Warner Brothers were voluntary transfers.

"A noted authority," Clinton asserted, "on the issue of whether sound recordings could fit into one or more of the nine categories listed as works for hire in the 1976 Copyright Act noted that 'the courts have rejected every attempt to fit sound recordings into the enumerated categories.'"

Last Wednesday, the court denied Clinton's motion for rehearing as untimely. 

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