~ by Daniel M. Levine
“In perpetuity,” is a phrase every lawyer dreads to see. Forever means forever, right? The difficulty is Federal and state laws generally give parties the power to freely contract, including odious terms and conditions. Once a valid contract is made it is extremely difficult to undo unless certain circumstances, usually involving deceit or an illegal purpose, were present.
One exception to this is authors (and heirs) may reclaim copyrights transferred or licensed during their lifetime under 17 USC §203. If properly executed, an author may reclaim all the rights they transferred or assigned thirty-five years after the effective date of the grant, regardless of what sort of “forever” language managed to work its way into the contract. Seriously. Sometimes the little guy does get a break. One of the only catches is that the transferee/licensee can continue to use the work in any derivative work, as defined under 17 USC §101, such as a film adaptation of a screenplay.
Even though Termination is an amazing resource, there are several reasons to contact an attorney to get you started and guide you through the process:
- There are many formalities, making it extremely nit-picky and difficult to navigate. For example, just the notice to Terminate has a laundry-list of requirements that must all be met to be valid such as in writing, served in a specific time-frame, specifying the date of Termination, be signed by all parties requesting Termination, and also recorded with the Copyright Office.
- They are extremely complicated. Determining if one even qualifies, the time-frames, and identifying all the necessary parties can be difficult, especially for complex, multi-year contracts that are common in many industries such as publishing and songwriting.
- Once the Transfer is effective, you can re-negotiate and re-transfer/license the work(s) that were the subject of the Termination.
We are available to help you decide if Termination is right for you or answer any other legal questions you may have.