Back in May last year we reported that the Ray Charles Foundation was taking legal action against a number of the late soul star’s children, claiming that they have reneged on an agreement reached with their father before he died in 2004 regarding his estate, by attempting to reclaim ownership of the copyright in some of the songs he wrote by using US copyright law provisions that say that works may be reclaimed after 35 years (for works written after the law was passed, longer for works that already existed). The Foundation had said that prior to his death, all of the soul singer’s children agreed to forego any future claims to their father’s estate in return for becoming beneficiaries of a $500,000 trust. The remainder of Charles’s estate, including future income from his copyrights, was left to the Foundation, which supports research and education programmes for the hearing impaired, as well as youth education initiatives. The Foundation says that the children have no right to try and reclaim control of the copyrights in their father’s songs.
The Foundation’s lawsuit also claim Charles entered into a new deal with his publisher in 1980 involving a number of works, which used up his ‘one time claim back’ option anyway under US law and that all other works the Charles’s children are trying to reclaim ownership of were written on a ‘work for hire’ basis for his publisher meaning therefore the publishing company (not the songwriter) is legally the author, and thus the claim back right does not apply (the same argument the major record companies are planning to argue that the 35 year claim back rule is not relevant when it comes to artistes reclaiming sound recordings). If owned by publishers the royalties would still flow to the Foundation
Well – the end result was a win for Charles’s children although the Ray Charles Foundation has pledged to appeal the ruling. The court dismissed the charity’s claims that the family attempting to take ownership of Charles’ copyright broke the agreement reached between the singer and his children before his death in 2004 and the Charles’s children successfully argued that if that if the songs were indeed ‘work for hire, then only Warner/Chappell could try to block their termination notice, not the Foundation.
The charity’s President Valerie Ervin told reporters: “The very clear and unmistakable intention of both Ray Charles and all his children [when making a 2002 agreement] was that, in exchange for a substantial payment, the children were not to raise any claims against their father’s estate. The children who filed these termination notices violated the sacred promise they made. They took their father’s money and now come back for more”. She added: “The law is very unsettled in these matters and we intend to seek resolution through the courts. Meanwhile, The Foundation will continue its substantial charitable works as intended by Mr Charles. Ray Charles never let anything stand in the way of his work and The Foundation continues with his legacy”.