In a 9th Circuit opinion, the panel upheld a district court opinion which assigned four of Clinton’s sound recording copyrights to a receiver to satisfy judgments rendered against him by his former lawyers. George Clinton, the renowned musician, bandleader, and producer, hired Hendricks & Lewis (H&L) to represent him in various infringement disputes from March 2005 – August 2008. The work performed on Clinton’s behalf constituted over $3 Million in fees; Clinton refused to pay over $1.72 Million. H&L pursued the enforcement of its past-due fees in arbitration and then later moved to compel the arbitration award in the District Court of Washington. 

The underlying appeal surrounds the court’s enforcement of the arbitration award and assignment of master recordings of Clinton’s performances with the group Funkadelic to receivership ("Masters"). The Masters songs at issue are “Hardcore Jollies,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Uncle Jam Wants You,” and “The Electric Spanking of War Babies”—all with registered copyrights. The copyrights were originally obtained by Warner Bros. and subsequently transferred to Clinton. Clinton alleges that the assignment of the Masters to receivership was improper and in violation of Copyright Act § 201 (e) which serves as protection to authors for involuntary transfer of their copyrights. The panel reasoned that Clinton was not an “author” of the Masters within the meaning of the act since all four Masters were created under agreements with Warner Bros. The Copyright Act provides that “[i]n the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author for purposes of [the Copyright Act]…” § 201 (b)

Therefore, the district court reasonably concluded that Warner Bros. was the initial author and owner of the Masters, and § 201 (e) is not available to Clinton. Subsequently, the panel found that it was not an abuse of discretion to appoint a receiver to manage or sell ownership of the copyrights, to satisfy judgments. “Clinton’s copyrights in the masters are subject to execution to satisfy judgments entered against him,” the panel said.

Hendricks Lewis, PLLC v. George Clinton, No. 13-35010 (9th Cir., June 23, 2014).