The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that Sony owns the rights to "King of the Road" singer Roger Miller's 1964 song catalog, reversing a lower court ruling that Miller's widow owned the renewal rights to songs.
Courts had previously ruled that Sony owned the rights to Miller's songs from 1958 to 1963; this latest Roger Miller music ruling strikes a district court judgment awarding Mary Miller $900,000 in damages.
Roger Miller assigned the original and renewal copyrights to his 1964 songs, including "King of the Road," to Sony's predecessor-in-interest in a series of contracts in the 1960s. In exchange for this assignment, Miller was entitled to receive royalty payments from the use of his songs. This dispute arose because Miller was still living in 1992 when Sony applied to register the copyright, but died before the start of the renewal term.
The renewal copyright term for the 1964 songs began January 1, 1993. Sony filed applications to register the renewal copyrights for the 1964 songs with the United States Copyright Office in January and April 1992, and subsequently registered the copyrights.
Roger Miller died on October 25, 1992. In his will, he granted all interests in his intellectual property to his wife, Mary Miller. Mary assigned the interests to Roger Miller Music, Inc. (RMMI). Over the next twelve years, Sony continued to exploit the 1964 songs and pay royalties to RMMI. In 2004, RMMI sued Sony for copyright infringement, seeking damages and a declaration that RMMI was the owner of the renewal copyrights to the songs based on legal hierarchy of who is entitled to renewal copyrights.
The district court concluded that Sony did not own the renewal copyrights, because Roger Miller had died prior to the vesting of the renewal rights and assignees were not included in the list of statutory successors.
RMMI argued that Miller must have been living at the start of the renewal term to effectuate his assignment to Sony, but Sony claimed that Miller needed to survive only until the time at which the application was filed. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Sony that the Copyright Act supported Sony's ownership because Sony began the copyright renewal process while Roger Miller was still alive.
Mary Miller's attorney has not indicated if she will appeal the decision, reports The Washington Post.
- Roger Miller Music v. Sony/ATV Publishing (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- A Tale of Two Marks: Maker's Mark and the Red Wax Trademark (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit blog)
- In a Trademark Case, The Supreme Court Recognizes That Art Flows From Multiple Sources (FindLaw)