LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Ira Gershwin trust claims WB Music Corp. defrauded the lyricist’s heirs, giving more money from song licenses to his brother’s estate because WB makes more money from its agreement with George Gershwin’s estate.
In the Superior Court complaint, Michael Strunsky, trustee for the Leonore S. Gershwin Trust, says WB took advantage of differing copyright laws in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Scandinavia to inaccurately characterize the brothers’ copyright registrations for their songs.
George wrote the music; Ira wrote the words.
In the United Kingdom, WB registered the brothers’ songs under the heading “words and music by Ira and George Gershwin.” That listing allowed WB to split revenue between the brothers’ estates. An accurate listing, attributing the creation of the lyrics to Ira with music by George, would have resulted in the expiration of George Gershwin’s interest in the songs, according to the complaint.
The brothers wrote about 900 songs during the 1920s and 1930s, the lawsuit states. Dozens of them have become standards. George Gershwin died in 1937, Ira in 1983.
Under U.S. copyright law, songs registered before 1977 remain under ownership of the author for 95 years after the author’s death. U.S. law considers the brothers’ songs to be “joint works,” in which both authors retain ownership until 95 years after the death of the last surviving author, the lawsuit states.
The United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Scandinavia do not recognize joint works. In those countries, each author keeps a copyright interest in his part of the song, and the length of the copyright is measured separately for each author.
In these countries, Ira Gershwin still holds a copyright interest over the lyrics of his songs, while George Gershwin’s interest has ended, putting the music in the public domain.
Ira Gershwin’s trust has three beneficiaries: the Library of Congress, The Charitable Trust for the Benefit of the Ira and Lenore Gershwin Designated Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, and The Strunsky Family Trust.
Named as defendants are WB Music Corp., Chappell and Co., and Warner/Chappell Music.
The Trust is represented by Lawrence Iser with Kinsella Weitzman.