'On the Road Again' Case Is on the Docket Again
(CN) - Additional briefing is necessary to settle a decades-long copyright dispute over the blues song "On the Road Again," now fought by the musicians' heirs, an appeals court ruled.
This version of "On the Road Again" is not the country song popularized by Willie Nelson on the soundtrack of the 1980 film "Honeysuckle Rose."
Blues musician Floyd Jones co-wrote the music and lyrics to this song in 1952, assigned his rights to the Chicago record label Lawn Music Co., and released his version of the song in 1953.
Several entities had a hand in the blues track before Canned Heat took it to No. 16 on the Billboard charts in 1968.
Lawn Music, which had been founded by Joe Brown, assigned the song in 1964 along with other tunes in its catalog to the Frederick Music Co. in exchange for royalties.
When Frederick filed for a copyright on the song in 1968, it identified Jones and Allen Wilson as the co-authors.
Later that year, however, Metric Music Co. claimed ownership of the song in a copyright application of its own. The Metric version was alleged to be "substantially copied" from the Lawn Music version, according to the latest ruling in the case, published on June 20.
Jones, Brown, Lawn Music and Frederick Music sued Metric Music and Liberty Records for copyright infringement in 1969, soon reaching a settlement in which the defendants assigned half of the rights to their version of the song to the plaintiffs.
Brown died in 1976 and Jones died in 1989.
Appointed administrator of his father's estate in 2009, Michael Brown included the song in a published inventory of the estate.
This drew an objection by Jones' granddaughter Barbara Hoy who petitioned for citation under the Probate Act of 1975.
The probate court granted Brown's request to dismiss the case, finding that the 1970 settlement of the federal lawsuit had the effect of res judicata and that it is barred by laches.
Hoy took the case to the Chicago-based First District Illinois Court of Appeals, which ruled that her claim should not be dismissed under the doctrine of res judicata.
"Barbara Hoy alleged that as an heir of Floyd Jones, she had an ownership interest in the musical composition and asserted that the composition should not be included in the inventory of Joe Brown's estate," Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall wrote for a three-member panel. "These issues and allegations were neither raised nor litigated in the federal action."
Laches, used to penalize litigants thought to have slept on their claims, also did not doom Hoy's claim.
"The record shows Barbara Hoy filed her initial claim against Joe Brown's estate on Aug. 3, 2010, approximately six weeks after she was put on constructive notice and named in a notice of administration of the estate published in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin," Hall wrote.
Finding that the delay was not unreasonable, Hall directed the parties to return to probate court to settle the whether Joe Brown or Lawn Music ever obtained a valid assignment of Jones' copyright interests.