Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dispute Over Royalties of Ray Charles

Ray CharlesRay Charles' children have recently broken the condition that was placed upon them when they accepted a $500,000 irrevocable trust. The children promised to not seek more money from the estate in exchange for the irrevocable trust. Eight years after the death of their father, the children have sought the termination of the assignment of copyrights on Mr. Charles' songs. Under United States law, the owner of a copyright has the right to terminate an assignment 35 years after he or she granted the assignment. There is a limitation to this rule. The artist must create the work before he or she is employed by the record label. If the works are made "for hire," then those artists are not entitled to termination rights. 

Here, the children have argued that as the heirs they have a right to terminate the assignment of the copyright. Whereas the Ray Charles Foundation, the foundation that holds many of Ray's copyright interests, has laid down two different argument for why the children cannot terminate the assignment of interest. First, the foundation has sided with the record label and argued that many of copyrights were made "for hire"; therefore, the children cannot terminate the assignment because the relevant law does not apply in this situation. Second, the foundation contends that the children are in breach of contract because they agreed to not seek further compensation from the estate for the irrevocable trust. 

See Heenan Blaikie LLP, Forget About Georgia - Ray Charles' Children Have Copyright Royalties on Their Mind, JD Supra, Nov. 3, 2012.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.


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