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Steinbeck Copyright fights

Steinbeck dies in 1968.

His 3rd wife inherits copyrights in some works by virtue of a clause in his will. – as well as a 50% interest in termination of grants. As per 17 U.S.C. § 304(c)(2)(B), his sons from a  previous marriage inherit a 50% interest in the termination rights. One of the sons dies, leaving his interest to his daughter.

    Elaine dies in 2003, leaving her copyrights to heirs from a previous marriage.

    Following Elaine’s death, Thom (son of Steinbeck) and Blake (Grand daughter), now possessed of 100% of the termination rights to Steinbeck’s termination interests, issue a series of termination notices upon various parties.

    Each termination notice addressed separately.

  1. “The Penguin Termination Notice”

        1938/1939 Steinbeck granted publication rights to several works to The Viking Press, predecessor to Penguin.         1994 Elaine enters into new agreement with Penguin, extending the exact same rights for greater consideration. Agreement is referred to as a “new agreement for continued publication” 

        2004 Thom and Blake serve termination notice. Penguin asserts that the notice is invalid, claiming the 1994 agreement constitutes a post 1978 agreement.

         Court holds however, that the 1994 agreement expressly preserves termination rights, and thus the claim that the document serves to both extinguish, and preserves those rights cannot stand. Also, the agreement, if interpreted to strip Thom and Blake of their future 50% interest (upon Elaine’s death) would constitute an “agreement to the contrary” See U.S.C. § 304(c)(5).

       Court hold the termination notice valid.

  1. “The Wayward Bus Termination Notice”

        1949 Steinbeck grants a number of media (film, TV, radio…) right to 20th Century Fox.         2004 Thom and Blake serve termination notice.

        Defendants argue that the notice is invalid, because Steinbeck died prior to the work entering its renewal term, and thus copyright renewal automatically went to heirs.

         Court cites Stweart v. Abend 495 U.S. 207 (1990), which states that if the author dies prior to the copyright renewal term, the next of kin receive the renewal copyright free of any claims of assignment made by the author during his lifetime.

        In this case, the renewal term came into effect in 1975—Steinbeck died in 1968.

Elaine thus inherited the copyright renewal free and clear, and Fox had no interest—thus there was noting for Thom and Blake to terminate.

  1. “The Cannery Row Termination”

        Steinbeck had granted film, TV, radio rights to Rogers & Hammerstein and MGM in and before 1956.

        2004 Thom and Blake serve termination notice. 

        Cannery Row registered in 1945—thus entering renewal in 1973…

        Same as “Wayward Bus” above.

  1. “The Long Valley and The Red Pony Termination”

        2004 Thom and Blake serve termination notices on Paramount Pictures Corporation for several works granted to Paramount’s predecessor in 1946, 1947, 1949.         Paramount counterclaims there was a 1983 settlement agreement between Elaine, Thom, and Blake’s father that extinguished Thom and Blake’s termination rights.         Paramount claim discovery is needed, and never follow up. Court deems this lack of follow up to be an abandonment of counterclaim, and acknowledges that should such an agreement exist, it would constitute an “agreement to the contrary”.


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