Our research hasn't turned up any new information on the case we've been discussing. The Ray Charles Foundation recently asked a federal court to stop the transfer of about 50 copyrights to some of the singer's children before the copyrights start to generate income -- scheduled to begin on April 1, 2012. The case is a great example of a best laid will, trust and estate plan gang a-gley (with apologies to Robert Burns).
The foundation claims that all of Charles' children agreed to accept the proceeds of individual trusts at their father's death and, by doing so, agreed to waive any rights to the rest of his estate. The bulk of the estate went to support the foundation, which in turn supports programs and organizations serving the hearing-impaired -- a particular passion for Charles.
The movie "Ray" has a wonderful scene early on between the 7-year-old Ray and his mother. She explains to him that he is going blind, and there's nothing to be done about it. He'll have to use his ears instead, she says. And she quickly runs through the kinds of things he'll have to differentiate: the step of someone entering the room and someone leaving it, for example -- all of the things in life that the sighted take for granted. Charles gave tirelessly to programs that helped kids, especially, overcome hearing disorders.
The foundation depends on the income from Charles' intellectual property and contract rights. Remember that Charles composed throughout his 50-year career. Copyright law changed dramatically in 1976 and again in 1998, and copyright laws have always been different for "original" work and work for hire. Think about a career that produced hundreds of works with and without a contract over a period of time covered by three sets of laws. It's a headache waiting to happen.
In the complaint, the foundation offers an explanation of the copyright status of the specific works in question. There are about 50 of them, and all are works for hire. Charles wrote them when he was under contract with a record company; the company's affiliate, a music publisher, registered the copyrights. Charles wrote the songs, but the music publishing company owned them.
The lawsuit turns on the renegotiation of those rights. We'll cover that topic next week.
Source: The Ray Charles Foundation v. Raenee Robinson et al., Complaint, US District Court, Central District of California, Case No. CV12-02725