Copyright Dispute between Music Publishers


American music publisher, Bourne Co., co-founded in 1919 by songwriter Irving Berlin, has initiated a copyright dispute lawsuit before the New York Supreme County Court against the UK-based Booey & Co. Ltd. alleging conspiracy to deprive Bourne Co. of its share of rights in the highly popular song ‘These Foolish Things’ written by Eric Maschwitz and  Jack Strachey.

Released in 1936, renditions of the song were recorded by various artists including Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald as well as Frank Sinatra. The cover version by Billie Holiday became so popular that it occupied the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Pop Songs chart.

Marco Berrocal, the successor in interest to Irving Berlin Inc. and the plaintiff in the said suit, has claimed that Boosey & Co., along with few of its subsidiaries had engaged in certain transactions with the sole aim of terminating the rights that were held by Bourne Co. since 1936 vide an Agreement dated April 28, 1936. The Plaintiff claims that the said agreement granted Bourne Co. the publishing and licensing rights over the song in the United States, Canada and Newfoundland for the copyright term of the song in the US in exchange for accounting and royalty collections.

The claims in the suit further allege that the Boosey & Co., on learning that Eric Maschwitz’s rights over the song would legally revert to his heirs, negotiated a contract with the Maschwitz family whereby rights of the heirs of Maschwitz were assigned to Lafleur Music Limited and Boosey & Hawkes Inc., which were sister companies of Boosey & Co. Mr. Berrocal has further stated in the plaint that Bourne Co. was informed by Boosey & Co. in 2014 that it would no longer provide Bourne Co. the rights to one-half of the composition since such rights were purportedly lost by Boosey & Co.

By doing so, the Plaintiff claims that Boosey & Co. has violated the contract between the two publishers by intentionally relinquishing and transferring 50% percent of the share of rights to the song to Boosey & Co.’s sister companies in order to divest Bourne Co.’s of its right to Maschwitz’s share before the end of the copyright term in 1931. The Plaintiff has also further alleged that Boosey & Co. has threatened to relinquish Bourne Co. of all its rights in the song since Bourne Co. has exercised his right to withhold payment of royalties to Boosey & Co. on account of the alleged violation of the Agreement by Boosey & Co.

The Plaintiff is seeking damages worth USD 3 million along with amount equal to the money Boosey & Co. and its subsidiaries have made from the song since the alleged assignment of rights.

It would be quite interesting to follow what would be the outcome of the lawsuit. Stay tuned for updates on this dispute.


The post is contributed by Thomas.

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