A blog about patent, copyright and trademark law in the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of New York

Court Refuses to Return Christmas Song to Authors

In a December 16, 2013 ruling, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin rejected the plaintiffs' copyright termination notice to the song "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and left ownership of the copyright with defendant EMI Feist Catalog, Inc.  The parties cross-moved for summary judgment, and EMI moved to exclude the plaintiffs' "purported copyright law expert" under Daubert.  Judge Scheindlin granted EMI's motions.

With regard to the expert testimony, the Court noted that the expert "opines on one issue:  the meaning of Sections 304 and 203 of the Copyright Act."  Judge Scheindlin excluded the opinion, ruling that the "Second Circuit has held that the testimony of an expert on matters of domestic law is inadmissible for any purpose.  Courts have an obligation to exclude affidavits that purport to construe Copyright Law.  Alter's [the expert's] affidavit expresses legal conclusions on the meaning of the 1976 [Copyright] Act, with the sole exception of some brief historical background on the Act."

With regard to the merits, the Court noted that the "sole issue in this case is whether Plaintiffs have the right to terminate EMI's copyright ownership in the Song."  The Court concluded that the plaintiffs did not have the right to do so because they failed to record a 1981 notice that terminated a 1951 agreement regarding ownership.  The failure to record the 1981 termination notice leaves the 1951 agreement in place until 2029.  Judge Scheindlin also found that the failure to record the 1981 notice of termination rendered subsequent notices ineffective even though those notices were served and filed according to the correct procedures.  The Court thus granted summary judgment in favor of EMI.
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