September 26, 2019
A US appellate court has ruled that Ennio Morricone, composer of classic film scores such as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “The Hateful Eight”, has the right to reclaim the copyrights for six Italian films he scored in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Morricone had previously assigned his rights to the film scores in question to publisher Bixio Music Group Ltd. (“Bixio”). While Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 (the “Act”) permits authors to terminate assignment agreements of this kind after 35 years from the initial publication of the work, Bixio refused to relinquish its claim when the composer served Bixio a termination notice.
Morricone originally sued Bixio in 2016 and lost at trial when a New York federal judge ruled that Bixio owned the copyright. The trial judge held that the film scores had been created as “works made for hire,” commissioned by Bixio, and were therefore not subject to Section 203 of the Act. Only an author can claim copyright in a work, but if an employee creates a work within the scope of their employment or as an independent contractor, the employer can be considered an author under U.S. copyright law.
Morricone successfully appealed the decision to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the scores were not “works made for hire” under either American or Italian law and were therefore subject to Section 203 of the Act. Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs noted that “Italian law does not recognize a comparable allocation of authorship […to the commissioning party] even if a contract between the parties grants all economic rights of exploitation to the commissioner.”
Six film scores, “Cosi Come Sei,” “Il Giocattolo,” “Un Sacco Bello,” “Bianco Rosso e Verdone,” “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man,” and “Lady of the Camelias”, are now securely back in the hands of their creator.
Authors: Amanda Bertucci and Megan Brooks