(CN) – To satisfy George Clinton’s nearly $2 million legal bill, a receiver can sell the copyrights to several songs by the funk legend, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
Seattle law firm Hendricks & Lewis has been trying for years to collect the $1.7 million that the 72-year-old Clinton still owes it for representing him in copyright disputes from 2005 to 2008.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle affirmed an arbitration award against Clinton in 2010, after which the hall-of-fame musician and performer fought a series of garnishments and liens around the country.
Clinton argued that the law firm’s collection tactics had made it impossible for him to earn a living. He claimed legal malpractice in a counteraction against Hendricks & Lewis, but the 9th Circuit would soon affirm that case’s dismissal.
Meanwhile, a court-appointed receiver took possession of the master sound recording copyrights to four of Clinton’s songs from the 1970s: “Hardcore Jollies,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Uncle Jam Wants You,” and “The Electric Spanking of War Babies.”
Clinton argued that the Copyright Act protected him from such an “involuntary transfer” of his copyrights, but Judge Lasnik disagreed because the rights to the songs were previously held by Warner Bros.
While Clinton had won the rights to the songs in 1993 after a long legal battle with Warner Bros., and a federal court in California affirmed the ruling in 2005, Warner Bros. remains the original “author” of the songs because it originally registered the copyrights.
That rules out protection under the Copyright Act, and Washington state law allows for the sale of the recording copyrights to pay back Hendricks & Lewis, Lasnik found.
A three-judge appellate panel affirmed on Monday and shed further light on why the Copyright Act does not offer Clinton protection.
Clinton was not, for purposes of copyright, the author of the songs, but even if he were the law could not help him, according to the ruling.
“There is no question that Clinton transferred any interest that he had in the Masters to Warner Bros., and, as part of a settlement arising from unrelated litigation, Warner Bros. subsequently agreed to transfer ownership back to Clinton,” Judge Morgan Christen wrote for the appellate panel. “These voluntary transfers provide yet another basis for rejecting Clinton’s argument that he enjoys § 201(e) protection as the original author of the master sound recordings.”
It was also proper for the lower court to appoint a receiver and authorize the sale of the copyrights, according to the ruling.
The leading force behind the pioneering funk bands Parliament and Funkadelic, Clinton made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Katherine Hendricks, a partner with Hendricks & Lewis, said that the firm is “delighted with the 9th Circuit’s decision.”
Clinton’s attorney, Eric Fong, has not responded to a request for comment.
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