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Ray Charles' heirs win copyright dispute

Seven of Ray Charles' twelve children recently persuaded an American court to allow them, his heirs, to reclaim copyrights on around 60 of his best known songs, reported Variety this week.

It is a very complicated case, but in essence, in 2010 the seven offspring of Mr Charles served termination notices to end the copyright grant on the works that had been given to music publishers Warner/Chappell Music. According to Variety, the relevant state law gives authors or, where the author is deceased, the author’s heirs, the ability to reclaim ownership of their works once a set length of time has passed.

The music publisher did not challenge the termination notices but the Ray Charles Foundation did, as it benefits from the copyright royalties. Among other things, the foundation argued that the children had each been granted $500,000 trusts in exchange for waiving all rights against Mr Charles' estate.

In a long and complicated ruling, the US District Judge found in favour of the heirs. On the issue of the trusts granted in return for waiving rights in the estate, she found that as probate on the estate had been completed in 2006, well before the notices were served, the termination notices were not actually a claim against the estate.

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