Several of late singer Ray Charles’ children have won their legal battle to reclaim the copyrights on 60 of the entertainer’s most famous songs. A lawsuit filed by the Ray Charles Foundation attempted to block his children’s’ right to ownership.
In 1976, a revision to the Copyright Act gave authors the ability to reclaim their works assigned to publishers after a certain period of time. However, works "made for hire" cannot be reclaimed. If an author is deceased, then the heirs of the estate are allowed to recover works.
In 2010, seven of Charles’ twelve children filed termination to reclaim ownership of the 60 compositions from Warner/Chappell Music. Warner/Chappell did not challenge the validity of the termination notices. The Ray Charles Foundation did, however, because it reaps royalties from the copyrighted music.
According to a report in Variety, the judge would not rule on whether or not the songs were “made for hire” but instead 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."
The foundation was also claiming breach of contract, claiming that in 2002, the children entered into an agreement with their father under which he set up a $500,000 trust for each of them and they waived "any right to make a claim against his estate." The judge ruled that the termination notices were not claims against the estate because the estate had been probated and closed in 2006, prior to the notices being sent out. Therefore, there was no breach of contract.
Foundations, trusts, and any other estate planning issues can be very complicated and through knowledge of the law is important. Make sure you consult with a qualified Illinois estate attorney for all your estate planning needs.