Law School Case Brief
Siegel v. Warner Bros. Entm't, Inc. - 542 F. Supp. 2d 1098 (C.D. Cal. 2008)
Someone seeking to exercise the 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c) termination right must specify the effective date of the termination, and that effective date must fall within a set five-year window which is at least 56 years, but no more than 61 years, from the date the copyright sought to be recaptured was originally secured, and such termination notice must be served 2 to 10 years before its effective date. The author or his or her heirs have to serve an advance notice in writing upon the grantee or the grantee's successor in title; the notice has to be signed by the author or his or her heirs; the notice is required to state the effective date of the termination; and the notice must be recorded in the Copyright Office before the effective date of termination. 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c)(4). Beyond these statutory requirements, the notice is also required to comply, in form, content, and manner of service, with the requirements that the Register of Copyrights prescribes by regulation. 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c)(4)(B). Toward that end, the Register has promulgated regulations implementing this statutory proviso, 37 C.F.R. § 201.10. Among those regulations is one requiring the terminating party to identify in the notice each work as to which the notice of termination applies. 37 C.F.R. § 201.10(b)(1)(ii).
Plaintiffs, the widow and the daughter of Jerome Siegel, sought a declaration pursuant to 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c) that they had overcome these odds and had successfully terminated the 1938 grant by Jerome Siegel and his creative partner, Joseph Shuster, of the copyright in their creation of the iconic comic book superhero "Superman," thereby recapturing Jerome Siegel's half of the copyright. Both the creator's heirs and defendant media companies, the assignees of the copyright, filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment.
Did the widow's continued receipt of payments and benefits under a 1975 agreement and 1982 codicil thereto constitute a "further grant" or "an agreement to make a further grant" pursuant to 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c)(6)(D)?
The district court found that two promotional announcements containing an illustration of Superman from the cover of the first Superman comic book were outside the effective reach of the termination notices. Included in defendants' right to continue to exploit the copyright in the derivative work (the promotional announcements) was the right to the copyright in that part of the pre-existing work (the cover illustration) that was published for the first time in that derivative work. However, the only copyrightable elements arising from the promotional announcements was the image of a person with extraordinary strength who wore a black and white leotard and cape. The question of the work-for-hire nature of certain portions of the Superman material published in the first Superman comic book was precluded from further litigation by operation of a 1974 Second Circuit decision. The widow's continued receipt of payments and benefits under a 1975 agreement and 1982 codicil thereto did not constitute a "further grant" or "an agreement to make a further grant" pursuant to 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c)(6)(D). 17 U.S.C.S. § 304(c)(6)(E) limited any accounting to domestic profits and excluded foreign sources.
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