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Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publishing, LLC, USCA Sixth Circuit, February 22, 2012
Sixth Circuit reverses district court’s judgment and holds that defendant, music publisher who was assignee of renewal rights in numerous songs, and not songwriter’s widow, owns renewal copyrights to songs where songwriter died after defendant filed renewal applications but before renewal term began.
Plaintiffs, Roger Miller Music Inc. (RMMI) and Mary Miller, widow of famed country singer and songwriter Roger Miller, sued Sony/ATV Publishing for copyright infringement, claiming that RMMI was the owner of the renewal copyrights for Miller’s songs. Miller, best known for the hit song “King of the Road,” assigned the original and renewal copyrights to his songs to Tree Publishing Co., Sony’s predecessor-in-interest, in a series of contracts in the 1960’s. In return, Miller was entitled to receive royalty payments from the use of these songs. In January and April 1992, Sony filed applications to register the renewal copyrights for songs with renewal terms beginning Jan. 1. 1993. Miller died in October 1992, after the application but before the copyright renewal term began. In his will, Miller granted all interests in his intellectual property to his wife Mary, who assigned those interests to RMMI. For 12 years prior to the lawsuit, Sony continued to exploit Miller’s songs and paid royalties to RMMI.
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