Gospel Hit Ownership |Case a Broken Record

     CINCINNATI (CN) — A copyright dispute between the children of a gospel songwriter dragged on before the Sixth Circuit on Wednesday, continuing an eight-year battle over rights to the hit “I’ll Fly Away.”
     The children of Albert Brumley Sr. have been battling each other over the ownership of the late songwriter’s gospel song since 2008.
     Brumley Sr. had assigned the copyright to two of his six children, Robert and William Brumley, in 1975 when he sold them his interest in Albert E. Brumley and Sons Inc. (AEB) for $100,000.
     When the patriarch died nearly two years later, he bequeathed all of his property, including his interests in any copyrights, to his wife Goldie.
     Goldie executed another bill of sale in 1979 that asserted sole and rightful ownership of all of Brumley Sr.’s songs and purported to assign those rights to AEB for $1.
     Robert bought out William’s share of AEB in 1986, and their mother died two years later.
     Matters finally heated up in 2006 when Robert and William’s four brothers had the U.S. Copyright Office terminate the 1975 transfer of rights in “I’ll Fly Away.”
     Attorney Barry Slotnick, representing AEB, disputed a federal jury decision that allowed several of Brumley Sr.’s heirs to terminate AEB’s rights to the song.
     Slotnick argued in a hearing Wednesday that, when Goldie sold the rights to “I’ll Fly Away” to AEB for $1 in 1979, she “extinguished” the other heirs’ termination rights.
     Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch was skeptical and said, “I don’t think we can assume she intended to take care of the termination rights. It’s not written [in the 1979 agreement]. Your burden is to provide evidence that she knew…and I’m not seeing it.”
     Slotnick countered, and said, “The only right she had [when she signed the agreement] was the right to extinguish the termination rights.”
     Judge Jeffrey Sutton pressed the issue, and asked, “When you’re not sure what an agreement does, shouldn’t you assume it doesn’t cover the termination rights?”
     Slotnick said, “This is the way everyone does business in this business. This [agreement] is not an aberration.”
     Sutton expressed his belief that, when the parties signed the agreement, they were unaware it included termination rights, which drew a smile from Slotnick.
     Sutton quipped, “Your smile reveals what I’m thinking. They had no idea what they were doing.”
     Attorney Larry Crane, who argued on behalf of Brumley Sr.’s heirs, the appellees, said the termination rights could only be extinguished if Goldie was aware she was giving them away.
     He pointed out that the 1979 agreement must be “read in tandem” with a 1975 agreement that sold the copyrights to two of Brumley’s sons, Robert and William.
     Slotnick argued that the latter agreement supersedes the first, but admitted in his rebuttal that “this is not the poster child for copyright termination.”
     Sutton expressed his feelings on the case when he said, “It is ironic how the [copyright] law is being applied. Congress was more worried about outsiders ripping off families, not intra-family disputes.”
     Prior to the arguments, Slotnick and Crane confided to each other that the case had perhaps carried on too long.
     Slotnick wholeheartedly agreed when Crane said, “I think it’s time to put this one to bed.”
     Judge Eugene Edward Siler Jr. rounded out the panel.
     No timetable has been set for the Sixth Circuit’s decision in the case.

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