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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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KC & the Sunshine Band Rights Dispute Revived

(CN) - Disco icons KC & the Sunshine Band must face a copyright infringement lawsuit from the estate of its former horn player, the 11th Circuit ruled.

Ronald Louis "Ronnie" Smith was a member of KC & the Sunshine Band, the disco supergroup whose hits included "Get Down Tonight," "That's The Way I Like It" and "Shake Your Booty."

Smith also wrote a song called "Spank," which was a hit in the late 1970s for Jimmie "Bo" Horne.

According to a lawsuit filed by his son, Ronald Louis Smith Jr., neither Smith nor Sunshine Records signed a songwriter's contract that would assign his rights to the song in exchange for royalties.

Instead, Harrick Music, a publishing company affiliated with Sunshine, registered a copyright for "Spank." Smith terminated his relationship with Sunshine Records in 1980, but the release he signed did not mention who owned the copyright to the song.

More than 30 years later, Smith's legal counsel sent a cease-and-desist letter to Harrick, revoking its authority to administer the "Spank" copyright.

Smith died in 2012 at the age of 59. He had been comatose for the last eight years of his life after a carjacking.

His son filed the copyright infringement and breach of contract lawsuit against KC & The Sunshine Band, Harry Wayne Casey ("KC"), Sunshine Sound Entertainment Inc., Horne, Harrick Music and Joy Productions.

The lawsuit dealt not only with "Spank" but with Smith's 1978 solo album, "Party Freaks Come On."

A federal judge in Miami dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, but the 11th Circuit reversed Wednesday.

"Harrick Music registered a claim to copyright in the 'Spank' composition, specifically identifying Smith as the composer and informing the Copyright Office the work was not made for hire. Nothing in Section 411 (a) (of the Copyright Act) indicates that a composer who has agreed to assign his legal interest in a composition, along with the right to register it, in exchange for royalties, may not rely on the registration his assignee files," Judge Phyllis Kravitch wrote for the court.

"Where a publisher has registered a claim to copyright in a work not for hire, we conclude the beneficial owner has statutory standing to sue for infringement," she added, remanding the case for further action.

The court agreed nevertheless affirmed that Smith was premature in suing for a declaration on validity of his copyright termination notices, which will not be legally effective until August 2014 at the earliest.

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