United States Copyright Termination Rights: What Does the Future Have in Store?

Brian D. Caplan And Jonathan J. Ross

©2013. Published in Landslide, Vol. 5, No. 3, January/February 2013, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

In conjunction with major revisions to the U.S. Copyright Act, and in order to counterbalance the unequal bargaining leverage between creators and those to whom they initially grant rights, Congress enacted legislation in 1976 that permits the recapture of copyrights 35 years following grants taking place after January 1, 1978, so long as the subject of the grant was not a “work made for hire.” The statute, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 203, thus has broad implications in the entertainment industry and publishing community at large. As reflected in the recent Scorpio v. Willis decision, discussed below, numerous potential areas for dispute will undoubtedly be brought to the courts over the next several years concerning the interpretation and application of authors’ termination rights with respect to post-1978 copyrighted works.

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