Seven of Ray Charles’ children have prevailed against the Ray Charles Foundation’s legal effort to prevent them from reclaiming copyrights on about 60 of his best-known compositions, reports Variety.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins threw out a number of claims that the singer’s namesake foundation had filed against the children after they filed termination notices in 2010 to reclaim the ownership of the works from Warner/Chappell Music. Although Warner/Chappell has not challenged the validity of the termination notices, the Ray Charles Foundation did, as it reaps royalties from the copyrighted music.
But Collins ruled that the foundation lacked standing to challenge the children’s’ filing of termination notices. A revision of the Copyright Act in 1976 gives authors the ability to reclaim their works assigned to publishers or other grantees after a certain period of time, although works “made-for-hire” cannot be reclaimed.
Collins did not make a judgment on whether all, some or any of Charles’ works were made “for hire.” Rather, she wrote that “because the Foundation is not a grantee of the rights to be terminated or its successor, Congress did not even require the statutory heirs provide it with statutory notice of the termination, let alone give it a seat at the table during the termination process.”
Collins also struck the foundation’s state law claims of breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The foundation said that Charles’ children entered into an agreement with the singer in 2002 in which he set up a $500,000 trust for each of them in which they waived “any right to make a claim against his estate.”
Collins, however, said that the children’s’ filing of termination notices “could not be claims ‘against’ Charles’s estate because his estate went through probate and was closed in 2006,” before the termination notices were sent out.
She also supported the children’s’ motion to strike the foundation’s state-law claims on the grounds that the filing of the termination notices fell under California’s anti-SLAPP law. This law is designed to discourage the filing of lawsuits as a way to chill expression through costly litigation. She noted that the heirs were merely trying to establish a property right under federal statute. Collins ruled that the foundation had to pay attorneys’ fees.
Seven of Charles’ 12 children were defendants in the case.