The 1976 Copyright Act created what is now commonly known as the termination right, which allows authors to unilaterally terminate prior grants of their copyrights and reclaim ownership. This right was created, in large part, to liberate authors from unremunerative agreements previously entered into when the value of their copyrighted works had not yet been realized. It can be a powerful tool for authors to leverage more favorable agreements than they were previously able, particularly when those copyrights are highly valued. To ensure authors’ ability to exercise this right, Congress enacted provisions in the 1976 Copyright Act that prohibit authors from assigning their future copyright interests before termination of their prior grants, with one important exception between authors and original grantees under specific circumstances.
However, in seeking to help and protect authors, Congress seems to have overlooked or somehow failed to recognize authors’ potential to abuse the termination right. This oversight created a loophole for unscrupulous authors. Specifically, the prohibition against authors assigning their future copyrights before their prior grants have terminated gives authors the ability to sell the same copyrights multiple times without punishment. The purchasers of these future copyright interests have no legal or equitable remedies for such abuses because the law clearly invalidates such agreements.
This article seeks to illustrate the extent to which authors who abuse the termination right can avoid punishment while the purchasers involved in these invalid agreements risk losing all money invested along with any rights they sought to obtain. It also illustrates the extent to which original grantees can be injured without any recourse for harm they may incur as a result of these agreements.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/samuel_jones/1/