Attorneys Ari J. Hoffman and Marc J. Herman Prevail in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

01.29.2024

Attorneys Ari J. Hoffman and Marc J. Herman of Cohen and Wolf, P.C. have successfully defended an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a years-long copyright dispute. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (the forum for all appeals filed in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont federal courts) issued a decision this week in which it confirmed that copyright owners cannot terminate royalties agreements.

The underlying lawsuit centered on a contract involving Bob Merrill—who wrote and copyrighted the lyrics to the Broadway musical Funny Girl. In this contract, Merrill sold financial rights he had in the Funny Girl lyrics to our clients’ predecessor-in-interest. In 2020, after Merrill’s death, his widow tried to terminate the contract by suing in Connecticut federal court, arguing that the Copyright Act allows her to terminate her late husband’s contract because the transaction conveyed a copyright.  

Attorneys Hoffman and Herman, representing the beneficiaries of the contract, moved for summary judgment. They argued that the Copyright Act does not apply to the contract, which is simply a royalties agreement, and that the plaintiff thus has no basis to cancel it. The trial court (The Honorable Jeffrey A. Meyer) agreed and awarded summary judgment to our clients.

The plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that the Copyright Act applied. The Honorable Judges Guido Calabresi, Alison J. Nathan, and Paul A. Engelmayer ruled in favor of the defendant, affirming Judge Meyer’s earlier decision. They explained that the underlying contract “never defines a copyright right that is being transferred or specifies the nature of any license to use the lyrics in a particular way.” In other words, the contract was “unambiguously a royalties agreement” to which the Copyright Act does not apply.

If you have a question regarding intellectual property issues or appellate matters, or if you would like to find out more about these practice groups at Cohen and Wolf, we encourage you to consult with one of our attorneys today.

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