Value doesn't always equate to money. Remember those "Priceless"
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:
"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
"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
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.'"
Wednesday, the court denied Clinton's motion for rehearing as
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