Mills Music, Inc. v. Snyder

PETITIONER: Mills Music, Inc.
LOCATION: New Mexico State Police Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 83-1153
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 469 US 153 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1984
DECIDED: Jan 08, 1985

Harold R. Tyler, Jr. - on behalf of Respondent
Marvin E. Frankel - on behalf of Petitioner
Preliminary Draft - for Revised U.S

Facts of the case


Media for Mills Music, Inc. v. Snyder

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 09, 1984 in Mills Music, Inc. v. Snyder

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Frankel, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

Marvin E. Frankel:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case has a similar superficial sound to the one preceding it.

This, too, is a case of statutory construction.

And here again, the petitioner, Mills Music, is arguing among other things, that the Court of Appeals reversing the district court violated the rule that it ought to read the statute and follow the plain meaning of what Congress wrote.

The statute here is determination of transfer provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 and, more specifically, the one sentence exception to the results of termination.

The provisions that are in issue are set out at pages 14 and 15 petitioner's blue brief, and I'll be talking about them and focusing most particularly, as I say, on a single sentence, the Exception that both lower courts describe with a capital E to focus on its centrality in the case, which is subsection A of 304(c)(6) there on page 15 of our brief.

Very briefly, 1 time remind the Court of the relevant statutory background.

The Copyright Act of 1976, extending copyright terms in general to 75 years for old copyrights, that is, pre-Act copyrights, and to life of the author plus 50 years for new copyrights, also created a termination provision by which authors or their heirs could terminate grants of transfers or licenses of their copyrights.

There are two separate sections that embody this termination idea.

One, section 203, relates to new copyrights after the effective date of the new Act.

The other, section 304, relates to preexisting copyrights.

We deal with 304 here, but as the courts below indicated, and I think the parties agree, both sections are identical for our purposes.

Both contain the identical exception for derivative works set out at page 15 of our brief.

And it is that exception that the case is about, and I'll be talking about that sentence, I think, in some little detail.

The undisputed facts that led to the summary judgment motions and decision in the district court are relatively simple.

In 1923, three authors, including Ted Snyder, wrote a song, a popular song called "Who's Sorry Now"?

We're concerned only with Ted Snyder's interest and the interest of his heirs, Marie Snyder and Ted Snyder, Jr., and I'll be referring to him, as we have throughout, as the author.

In 1940, Snyder assigned the renewal term of his copyright to the Mills Music Company, the petitioner here, in a form of assignment that, as both courts below said, is typical of the music business and typical of a number of others.

And it appears at the beginning of page 41 of the Joint Appendix.

The provisions of direct and central interest to us are the provisions for the licensing by Mills of recordings of the song.

Snyder, in a sense, did not transfer all his rights under the copyright, and I mean in the sense that be retained under the terms of his graft a 50 percent interest in the net royalties from licenses for recordings that Mills was authorized to issue.

Now, that, as both courts below said, is a standard or typical arrangement in the music business.

And its standardness and typicality is a point of some consequence, in our view, for the correct construction of the statute.

And I might add, as the Court of Appeals indicated, that multi-grant situations of the kind we have here are typical net only in the music business, but in other fields of artistic work and the business relationships that grow up around artistic works, and that is, among other reasons we take it, why this is a case warranting review on certiorari.

After the effective date of the new Act, the heirs of Ted Snyder, whose widow and his son, who is a conservator of the widow, exercised the power given under that statute 3O4(c) to terminate the graft, terminate the grant from Ted Snyder to Mills.

They exercised it by giving a notice to Mills referring to that grant and terminated it.

And there is no dispute that that's the only grant they purported to terminate and, for our purposes, the only grant they could terminate.

Everyone agrees that as a result of the termination, they recapture 100 percent of all rights in the copyright going forward from the effective date of the termination.

They can license new recordings.

They can reap rewards from sheet music.