Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Second Circuit: Iron Man Soundtrack Copyright Infringement Litigation Can Proceed On Work-for-Hire Question

Ghostface Killah - Ironman

Urbont v. Sony Music Entertainment, 831 F.3d 80 (2d Cir. 2016), the Second Circuit tackled in a copyright infringement case the question of whether a third party to an employment agreement involving copyrighted material would have standing to assert the work-for-hire defense.   The Second Circuit found that under the circumstances, a third party to the contract could assert a work-for-hire defense.

Jack Urbont, the creator of the soundtrack to the original 1966 Iron Man, claimed copyright in the sound recording.   Urbont was asked by Stan Lee to develop music for what would become an audiovisual work, the television production of Iron Man.   Urbont came up with the music, it was accepted by Lee/Marvel, and then Urbont was paid $3,000.  Urbont claimed that the copyright in the sound recording was his under the common law as a pre-1972 sound recording.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of SONY and Ghostface Killah.  Urbont appealed. arguing that SONY and Ghostface did not have standing to challenge his copyright.  Marvel was not a party to the action.

The Second Circuit held, as a matter of first impression, that SONY/Ghostface had standing to raise the work-for-hire defense.   The Second Circuit also held that the Copyright Act pre-empted the common law for the Iron Man soundtrack which it considered part of an "audiovisual work" rather than a sound recording.  The Second Circuit vacated and remanded on the question of whether Urbont's creation of the "Iron Man" soundtrack was truly a "work for hire" under the 1909 Copyright Act, given Urbont's undisputed testimony that created disputed questions of fact.

 Copyright law, fine art and navigating the courts. Attorney and AuthorCopyright Litigation Handbook (Thomson Reuters Westlaw 2015-2016) by Raymond J. Dowd
 Copyright Litigation Handbook on Westlaw

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