In a recent judgment of the English High Court, members of the group Duran Duran were found to have been precluded from exercising rights under US law. Duran Duran sought to terminate an historic assignment of copyright in 37 of their songs to the music publishing company Gloucester Place Music Limited (Gloucester). The court found that by attempting to terminate the assignment the group was in breach of the assignment contract.
In 1980 the members of Duran Duran entered into an agreement with Gloucester which assigned the worldwide copyright to songs written over a 3 year period to Gloucester, including their best known songs "Rio" and "Hungry Like a Wolf".
Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act (Section 203) allows authors, such as Duran Duran, to terminate assignments of copyright in works where the assignment was made after 1 January 1978 and certain other conditions are met.
Duran Duran claimed that they complied with the requirements of Section 203, in that 35 years had elapsed since the assignment of the copyright. As such they were entitled to serve notice of termination of the assignment on Gloucester. Upon receipt of the notice of termination Gloucester filed an action for breach of contract.
The court reviewed the assignment, which was governed by English law, noting that expert evidence was not presented during the case as to the applicability of Section 203. In the absence of such expert evidence, the court decided that the assignment precluded Duran Duran from exercising rights under US law.
The case serves as a reminder to parties to give careful consideration to selecting a governing law clause where a contract has effect in more than one jurisdiction. This is particularly important in light of Brexit.