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04C joint works

Where to Look in the Law

1909 Act: Not discussed
1947 Act: Not discussed
1976 Act: §201(a); §101 definition “joint work” (“a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole”)

What the Courts Ruled


Edward B. Marks Music Corporation vs Jerry Vogel Music Co.

C.C.A.N.Y. (1-26-1944) ¤ 140 F.2d 266 and 268, 60 USPQ 256 and 257.

The song “December and May” was the result of one songwriter determining the words, another the music.  Co-writers Marks and Loraine didn’t first meet until years later, although the song was copyrighted as a joint work.  This (timely) November 9, 1893, copyright was renewed November 11, 1920, by Marks on behalf of both; Loraine didn’t himself file, but did assign his rights to Vogel July 20, 1940.

In litigation, it was objected that because the composers had not worked side-by-side during composition, the work was a “composite,” but the Court determined that for applicable purposes the work was a whole in itself.  Thus, renewal applied to the whole.  (Had Loraine’s contribution not been part of this whole, Marks’s renewal would have applied only to his work and Lorraine’s would have been in the public domain.)

“It is enough that they mean their contributions to be complementary in the sense that they are to be embodied in a single work to be performed as such. … The words and music were meant to be enjoyed and performed together; unlike the parts of a ‘composite work,’ each of which is intended to be used separately, and whose only unity is that they are bound together.”

“Hence, if the song was the joint work of Marks and Loraine, when Marks took out the renewed copyright, it was valid, but he held it upon a constructive trust for Loraine, as does the plaintiff [a company to which songwriter Marks transferred his rights], his assignee.”  Marks “could not forbid that assignee from exploiting the subject matter of their right.”




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