Hendricks & Lewis v. George Clinton, No. C12-0841RSL., 2012 WL 5947638 (W.D. Wash. Nov. 27, 2012)

The Western District of Washington recently ordered George Clinton (of George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic!) to transfer his copyrights in certain songs to court appointed receiver. The receiver must then take whatever steps are necessary to satisfy judgments owed by Mr. Clinton to the law firm, Hendricks & Lewis for unpaid legal work.

Mr. Clinton tried to argue that an obscure provision of the Copyright Act, written during the Cold War, protected him from the forced transfer of his copyrights. The provision was written to protect authors from their works being usurped by communist governments, but the language is not limited to just communists. Rather, it suggests that no governmental entity can take or force the transfer of an author’s copyright interests. Mr. Clinton, therefore, was arguing that a forced transfer of his copyrights by the court would violate the provision.

The court agreed with Mr. Clinton that a court cannot force the transfer an author’s copyright interest, but also held that the provision only applies where (1) the author is an individual, as opposed to a business entity, and (2) the copyright has not been previously transferred. Here, the songs at issue were originally recorded by George Clinton, but it was as part of a work-for-hire agreement with Warner Music. As a result, the court found that the original author was Warner Music, which is a corporate entity and not protected by the provision. Moreover, even if Clinton were the original author, he only currently owned the copyright interests pursuant to a settlement agreement between him and Warner. Mr. Clinton had already divested himself of his rights when he transferred the copyrights to Warner and was only an assignee now, not an author.

In light of its findings, the court held that the songs must be transferred to a receiver and that they should be sold to satisfy the judgment owed to Hendricks & Lewis for the over 1 million dollars of legal work they previously provided to Mr. Clinton.

Finally, to answer the two big questions on everyone’s mind, the copyrighted songs up for grabs are the Funkadelic master sound recordings of “Hardcore Jollies,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” Uncle Jam Wants You,” and “The Electric Spanking of War Babies.” And given Mr. Clinton’s failure to pay his previous legal fees, and the forced transfer of the Funkadelic’s most well-known copyrights to his former attorneys, it is completely unclear how his current lawyer is going to get paid.