Legal Updates on Copyright Assignment

Media And Entertainment: Film - Copyright Assignment - Reversionary Interest

This media case concerns Novello and Co Ltd v Keith Prowse Music Publishing Co Ltd (CA) [2004]. The author between 1941 and 1946 was a composer of many well-known film scores and he executed a number of assignments including assigning the whole of the copyright in his works to K Ltd in return for royalties.

K Ltd assigned the rights to the defendant, and in December 1973 the author further assigned the rights in favour of the defendant. The defendant relied on that assignment as transferring to it the reversionary interests in the author's works. In November 1977 the author died. Novello, the claimant, claimed title to the author's rights under an assignment made in 2000 from the author's personal representatives. Section 5(2) of the Copyright Act 1911provides that:

'... where the author of a work is the first owner of the copyright therein, no assignment of the copyright, and no grant of any interest therein, made by him (otherwise than by will) after the passing of this Act, shall be operative to vest in the assignee or grantee any rights with respect to the copyright in the work beyond the expiration of twenty five years from the death of the author, and the reversionary interest in the copyright expectant on the termination of that period shall, on the death of the author, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, devolve on his legal personal representatives as part of his estate, and any agreement entered into by him as to the disposition of such reversionary interest shall be null and void, but nothing in this proviso shall be construed as applying to the assignment of the copyright in a collective work or a licence to publish a work or part of a work as part of a collective work.' The Copyright Act 1956 came into effect in June 1957.

The proviso to s 5(2) was preserved by paragraph 28(3) of Schedule 7 to the Copyright Act 1956 in relation to certain types of assignments made before June 1957.

Therefore, 25 years after the author's death (in November 2002), the reversionary interest fell into possession. The courts had to determine which of the parties owned the reversionary interest. The effect of the proviso to s 5(2) of the Copyright Act 1911 above was to vest the reversionary interest in his personal representatives. Hence, the assignments that were not operative were unable to vest the reversionary interest in the assignee and were therefore null and void in so far as they amounted to agreements to dispose of such reversionary interests.

The claimants argued that the effect of the transitional provisions, contained in the 1956 Act, was to apply to the 1973 and as such the 1973 assignment was not effective to transfer the reversionary interest to the defendant. The court held that on the proper construction of the legislation, the provisions of paragraph 28 of Schedule 7 to the 1956 Act, did not operate to invalidate the 1973 assignment, which had been effective in passing the reversionary interest to the defendant. The judge therefore dismissed the claimant's claim in respect of title to the author's rights. The claimant appealed against this decision.

The appeal was dismissed.

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© RT COOPERS, 2005. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

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