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The U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §507(b), states that a civil copyright action must be filed within three years of its accrual. How this applies to copyright infringement and to copyright ownership claims, including in the same case, isn’t always clear. But two recent federal appeals courts decisions, one from the Eleventh Circuit and one from the Second Circuit, have provided guidance on the differences in accrual for each of these copyright claims. Webster v. Dean’s Guitars, 19-10013 (11th Cir. 2020), presented a case of first impression to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. In the 1980s, Buddy Webster (p/k/a Buddy Blaze) presented a Dean guitar he had rigged with a lightning storm visual to Darrell Abbott, who became a legendary guitarist for heavy metal group Pantera. In 2004, Abbott, who dubbed the guitar “The Dean from Hell” (DFH) agreed to endorse Dean guitars. When Abbott died later that year, Dean began reissuing copies of Abbott’s guitar featuring the lightning graphic — without Webster’s permission. Webster knew in December 2004 of the guitar reissue as well as Dean’s sale of subsequent editions of the guitar, but didn’t file suit until 2017 — not long after Webster federally registered the copyright in the lightning graphic. His complaint alleging copyright infringement, among other things, was litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, where the district court dismissed the action as a time-barred copyright ownership claim.
By Stan Soocher
In the 1976 Copyright Act, Congress inserted a termination right for authors or their successors for pre-January 1, 1978, assignments of copyrighted works. However, the legislators didn’t directly address a key issue: how to determine termination rights for what are known as “gap grant” works — that is, those created post-1977 under copyright assignments made before then.
By Neil J. Rosini and Michael I. Rudell
The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc on the entertainment industry. Productions have been halted and distribution channels disrupted. In the midst of this pandemic, one big question for contracting parties is whether force majeure will excuse or postpone a party’s obligations without liability.
By Raychel Lean
Federal Judge Kathleen Williams recently analyzed the hit song “Despacito” in a copyright lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, when she found its writers had not copied an earlier Spanish song with the same name.
By Mark A. Salky and Jessica Johnson Fishfeld
During a time when online marketing, virtual shopping and electronic communication are more widely used than ever, it is critically important for entertainment industry businesses to be highly aware of how they are using trademarks, the scope of a trademark owner’s rights and the consequences of infringing them.