We were talking with a friend of ours about the Ray Charles Foundation's latest lawsuit. Her reaction was interesting. First, she was surprised to find a family involved in more probate litigation than her own. Then, she wondered if it really should be considered probate litigation, or if we should classify the story as estate administration, instead. Then she asked if we were going to include contract negotiations for royalties in our discussion (we may), and, finally, she asked if she could borrow $500,000 just to see how long it would take to go through it.
Critics of the defendants in this case, seven of Ray Charles' 12 children, say they decided to go after the copyrights because they blew through the money from their trusts in very short order. The court filings don't touch on that, and it is not our place to speculate. The court filings do, however, claim that the children all agreed to give up their claims to any of their fathers' works in exchange for the $500,000 (in trust). And, the story of the lunch at which Charles proposed the plan has been repeated often.
When we left off, we were talking about the singer's copyrights -- in truth, the copyrighted works composed in whole or in part by the singer. The music company owned the copyrights; Charles negotiated with the company for a cut. As the law changed, he updated his contracts.
As we said, the copyright law changed in 1976. The system for determining ownership (registration versus publication) changed, and the calculation of ownership duration changed. For works created after 1976, the system was more favorable for the author. For works created before that?
The Copyright Act of 1976 included a grandfather clause for works written before that date but not yet in the public domain. The extension term -- the renewal period -- was changed from an additional 28 years to an additional 47 years. The total term, then, was 75 years, and it matched the new law.
Another law change, in 1998, extended the term even further. If the author owned a copyright, the term was the author's life plus 70 years. For works for hire and works copyrighted before 1978, the term was increased to 95 years.
What did this mean for Charles? We'll get into that next time.
Source: The Ray Charles Foundation v. Raenee Robinson et al., Complaint, US District Court, Central District of California, Case No. CV12-02725