Celebrity Justice - The FindLaw Celebrities and The Law Blog

Fight Over Nina Simone Copyrights Goes to the 9th Circuit, Finally

The fight over the music catalog of iconic American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, Nina Simone, may soon be over as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gets ready to enter the fray. The legendary artist died in April 2003 at the age of 70. Her ex-husband, ex-attorney, and former studios are all claiming some rights to the music catalog.

The fight in the Federal Northern District Court of California has been ongoing since as early as 2008, and 2007 in the Federal Court in New York. The claims have been made back and forth, with each party counterclaiming against the other for various causes of action all geared at establishing ownership of the deceased artist's music. Then, in 2012, when the ex-husband, Stroud, died, things became even more complicated.

Who Owns the Rights to Nina Simone's Music?

The appeal has been pending since 2014. Right now, everyone is waiting on the decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which could be issued any day now. On October 17, 2016, the parties arguing over who should own the rights to the deceased artist's music catalog were supposed to fight it out in the appeals court. However, a few weeks before the hearing, the court said they thought the papers that were filed explained everything they needed to make a decision.

The big issue on appeal is whether Stroud's surviving spouse was properly substituted in when he died. Stroud's surviving spouse failed to respond and a default judgment was taken against her. While the briefs outline numerous other issues, this is perhaps one of the central issues the court will have to decide.

Who Owns the Rights to the Music When an Artist Dies?

When an artist or company copyrights something, they own the rights for the life of the artist, plus 70 years, or if it was a work for hire, then for 95 years after the first publication. When an artist dies, if they owned their own copyrights, then the copyrights will become the property of the artist's heirs. A copyright holder may leave their copyright to a person via their will, or if they don't have a will, then it will pass via intestate succession like all other property.

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