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04G transfer recordation
1909 Act: §§44-46
1947 Act: §§30-32
1976 Act: §§204-205
CFR: § 201.4 Recordation of transfers and certain other documents;
§ 201.10 Notices of termination of transfers and licenses.
“Section 205 of the statute provides that ‘any transfer of copyright ownership or other document pertaining to a copyright may be recorded in the Copyright Office.’ Recording a document pertaining to copyright ownership under section 205 not only ‘gives all persons constructive notice of the facts stated in the recorded document,’ but it may also have other important consequences in cases of infringement or conflicting transfers. Supplementary registration does not accord ‘constructive notice’ and is not the correct method for recording transfers of copyright ownership.” (Information Circular 8)
Romola Nijinsky, the widow of “the famous ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky,” sold the same rights to two books about her late husband to two different parties. The first sale was in March 1940 to Basil N. Bass, who in November 1940 assigned them to Oscar Serlin. Nijinsky’s second sale was to movie producer Charles Vidor in 1954. Neither the first sale nor the assignment from it were recorded in the Copyright Office until after the sale to Vidor was recorded. “[S]ince Vidor did record his assignment, his rights thereunder are prior to any rights of the Bass estate or Serlin, unless Vidor had knowledge or notice” of the earlier documents. The court not only found no such evidence, but also contacted the book publisher and “arranged to get from the publisher an assignment containing no exceptions. Mrs. Nijinsky in her assignment to Vidor warranted that she had not granted the rights to anyone else.” Thus, “Vidor was a bona fide purchaser for value… sufficient to give Vidor clear priority over Serlin”.
Killiam had purchased the rights that D.W. Griffith had at the time of his death. This included whatever rights that the famed director then had in his milestone feature film The Birth of a Nation (1915). Killiam assumed he could book this film into theaters and television. He ran afoul of Epoch Producing Corp., which in 1942 had secured the only renewal of the copyright to the film. Now realizing that Griffith may have transferred his rights to this film prior to his death (the rights to other films that Killiam acquired remained solid), Killiam looked more deeply into the matter. On the basis of his discoveries, Killiam asserted to the Court that the film was in the public domain. The Court found that Epoch could not establish that it was a proper successor to the original owners of the film, thus the ruling was that no valid renewal had been undertaken. Although Killiam would have been better served with unbreached exclusive rights and a valid renewal, the path was now open for anyone to copy and offer The Birth of a Nation. His firm would be among a number who did.
Cases Summarized in Other Sections
vs Jerry Vogel Music Co. (launch this) concerned renewal to a song by a music company which didn’t obtain an assignment from the (supposed) widow of composer Jean Havez until months after the company had renewed the song in her name.
Alice T. Yardley vs Houghton Mifflin Co., Inc. (launch this) mentions that a sister of a deceased artist renewed the copyright in her brother’s mural and only years later sought an assignment from the executor of the estate, who was still serving at the time of renewal and had not himself filed.
The Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site
© 2007 David P. Hayes