Thursday 4 November 2010

Crosstown v Rive Droite: the Court of Appeal unfazed by foreign copyright

In 2006 Crosstown Music acquired rights in 119 songs from music publisher River Droite. Rive Droite had been assigned the rights by the songwriters under agreements that stated the rights would revert in the event of a material breach. Accounting failures of Rive Droite resulted in the songwriters Mark Taylor and Paul Barry being underpaid and last year Mann J held that the rights reverted back to them. Crosstown appealed and on Tuesday the Court of Appeal gave its judgment. It dismissed the appeal on all three issues:

1. Crosstown argued that the reversion clause was invalid because it effectively meant that the assignments had been for an indeterminate length of time. The Court of Appeal, however, had no problem with this indeterminacy: to them, it fits quite happily with section 90A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and with previous case law.

2. Crosstown said the songwriters had given notices of the breaches too late, but the Court of Appeal refused to imply a term that the notices had to be served within a reasonable time.

3. Crosstown said that following the Lucasfilm judgment (which was given after Mann J’s), the trial judge did not have jurisdiction over questions of title to the foreign copyrights that were involved. The Court of Appeal said that Lucasfilm was irrelevant as it had been about infringement of foreign copyright, not copyright ownership or title. Furthermore the agreements conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the English courts.

The Court of Appeal’s decision on this third point is certainly pragmatic. Many copyright licences cover numerous jurisdictions and if an English court could not handle this dispute, then how else should it be managed? Perhaps by a United Nations of IP judges, each opining on their own copyright law. However, was Crosstown’s argument so absurd? Though the agreements were governed by English law, even English contract law cannot override national copyright laws. So if there are any countries where copyright cannot be assigned for an indeterminate length of time, then this reversion clause would seem to present a genuine problem.

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