A Ron Howard directed film showing a live performance of the Beatles is now the target of a lawsuit. Sid Bernstein had a big involvement in the production of the performance. Numerous sources claim that it was his idea for a live performance and that his team was responsible for the recording of the performance. Now Sid Bernstein Presents, a company which represents the now deceased Bernstein, seeks a lawsuit against the Ron Howard production and other companies for making use of the recorded performance. They claim it is a copyright infringement.
It will be quite difficult for Bernstein Presents to win on this lawsuit. For starters, although Bernstein played a huge role in the production process and had creative input, the courts have said that he was not the copyright holder. Simply being involved in the creative process of a work, whatever it may be, does not guarantee that the individual is the rightful owner of the work. There are many different key players in the production of such an event but there typically is one individual who is pegged as the copyright holder.
It’s not just about the ‘sweat of the brow’ or to put in plain terms, the amount of work one has put into it. Other factors including the amount of money poured into the project, as well as contracts that explicitly lay out the terms. Contract language holds the most weight because it is final in most instances. Other times, a contract will claim an involved party as a ‘work-for-hire’, which means that the individual is an employee, and will receive recognition for their work but will not be considered rightful owner of the copyright. If Bernstein was acting as independent contractor at the time, an argument can be made that he is the copyright holder. As this was not the case, it will not be further discussed.
It is important to note that providing creative input will not suffice in giving way to copyright ownership. Although copyright law is predicated on creative contribution, there are legal restrictions in place that will counter this notion. In the case of Bernstein, whether or not he had creative insight and assisted in the management and production of the work, other factors must be factored in as well.
To make matters worse, the Copyright office rejected Bernstein’s copyright registration application. Although registration is not a key ingredient in pursuing an infringement, it provides insight as to its copyright status. Ron Howard and others have used the recognizable Beatles live performance recording in their works and if Bernstein hopes to win on infringement grounds, he must make a strong showing that he was the rightful owner. This will be close to impossible to show, considering the reasons mentioned above. One more problem, at least according to one source, is that Bernstein never held himself out to be the exclusive owner. He acted as an employee, not as an employer who has ‘direct’ control and supervision over the working giving them full control over the work.
Statute of Limitations
The Statute of limitations creates a time frame in which the plaintiff can initiate a lawsuit. Statute of limitations functions a bit differently in the context of copyright infringement. In this context, the clock starts running when the copyright holder becomes aware of the infringement, not the moment in which the infringement first occurs. The time frame to bring lawsuit upon discovery of the infringement is three years. Whether or not Bernstein is within this scope hardly makes a difference. The bottom line is that he will have a hard time convincing the courts that he is the rightful owner.
Reworking the System
There are many out there who have been rather outspoken about the issue-they would like the copyright landscape to be altered to become more considerate of the players involved in the creative decision-making. Like mentioned before, most of these relationships are handled in the form of contracts but there can be a compromise of sorts for the creative minds of the work. These conglomerates should not own the business and IP rights. There should be a balance that exceeds the employer-employee relationship that gives more consideration to the individual contribution and investment.
Authored by Sam Behbehani, LegalMatch Legal Writer