Donaldson Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., No. 189

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtLUMBARD, , and FRIENDLY and HAYS, Circuit
Citation375 F.2d 639
Decision Date24 March 1967
Docket NumberDocket 30367.,No. 189
PartiesDONALDSON PUBLISHING CO., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BREGMAN, VOCCO & CONN, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

375 F.2d 639 (1967)

DONALDSON PUBLISHING CO., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BREGMAN, VOCCO & CONN, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 189, Docket 30367.

United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit.

Argued January 3, 1967.

Decided March 24, 1967.


375 F.2d 640

Lewis A. Dreyer, New York City (Norma Hack and Rosen, Seton & Sarbin, New York City, on the brief), for appellant.

Max Chopnick, New York City (Theodore R. Kupferman, S. Leonard Wall, John G. Proudfit and Conner & Chopnick, New York City, on the brief), for appellee.

Before LUMBARD, Chief Judge, and FRIENDLY and HAYS, Circuit Judges.

HAYS, Circuit Judge:

This is an action to determine the ownership under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 24,1 of the renewal copyright interest in eighty-seven songs written either alone or in collaboration with others by Walter Donaldson. Ownership is claimed by defendant under a contract, dated May 15, 1928, between Donaldson and the defendant, known at that time as Donaldson, Douglas & Gumble, Inc. Donaldson died before the commencement of the renewal term. His two surviving children obtained renewal copyrights which they assigned to the plaintiff, Donaldson Publishing Company. This appeal is from an order and judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, dismissing plaintiff's complaint and declaring defendant to be the owner of the renewal copyrights.2 We hold that plaintiff is the rightful owner of the title to the renewal copyrights. The decision is therefore reversed and the case remanded to the district court.

In 1927, Donaldson, who was a prominent and successful songwriter, Walter Douglas, a sales manager for a music publishing firm, and Mose Gumble, a professional manager in the music publishing business, began negotiations for the formation of a music publishing company. After numerous conversations the parties reached substantial agreement in the spring of 1928 deciding to form a corporation. They then consulted a well known attorney in the music publishing field, Nathan Burkan, who assigned his

375 F.2d 641
associate, Charles Schwartz, to handle the matter

After discussing with the parties the substance of their proposed transaction, Schwartz drew a draft of a pre-incorporation agreement. This instrument provided for the formation of a corporation to be known as Walter Donaldson, Inc., Music Publishers, with Donaldson as its president.

The agreement also set forth the rights and obligations of the parties to the corporation. Donaldson was to write and compose musical works for the corporation and was to receive specified royalties. Douglas and Gumble were to be employed by the corporation, and each was to receive $300 a week for his services.

The parties discussed the draft and proposed changes were noted in the margin by Schwartz. These amendments, including a paragraph providing that Donaldson was to have "a drawing account against royalties of $300 per week during the first six months of his employment and of $500 per week during the balance of the term," were embodied in the final agreement which was signed by the parties on May 4, 1928. About two weeks later, following the incorporation of Donaldson, Douglas & Gumble, Inc.,3 each of the parties executed separate contracts with the corporation which repeated almost verbatim the language of the pre-incorporation agreement.

During the ensuing five years Donaldson wrote 87 songs, either alone or in collaboration with others, which were published by defendant pursuant to the agreement. Among the songs were many written by Donaldson for use in musical stage plays and motion pictures, including for example the stage and screen versions of the well-known "Whoopee." Under the agreement the corporation obtained copyrights on all these songs, but the dramatic and synchronization rights were held by Donaldson and he, rather than the corporation, received substantial payments for such rights from the producers to whom they were negotiated. Defendant was given the right to license mechanical reproductions of the show songs and to publish them.

Donaldson earned approximately $164,000 in royalties during this period. Even so, by the end of the term of the agreement in 1933 his drawings from the corporation exceeded by $12,000 the amount of royalties he had earned. The defendant treated this overdraft as a debt which was discharged when, at Douglas' request, Donaldson surrendered his stock in the corporation in exchange for a general release relieving him of all liability arising from the operation of the business.

The principal question before us is whether the defendant's relationship to Donaldson was that of an "employer for hire" within the meaning of section 24 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 24 (set out in full in footnote 1, supra), which permits an "employer for whom a copyrighted work is made for hire" to renew and extend the copyright in such work for a further term of twenty-eight years. If Donaldson was not an employee for hire of the defendant corporation, then, under Section 24, Donaldson having died, his surviving children had the right to renew the copyrights.

We may say by way of preface to our opinion on the merits that we...

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30 practice notes
  • Siegel v. Time Warner Inc., No. CV-04-8776-SGL(RZX).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • 27 Julio 2007
    ...engage those other than the commissioning party in marketing his or her work. See Donaldson Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 642-43 (2nd Cir.1967). "In contrast, where the creator of a work receives royalties as payment, that method of payment generally weighs ag......
  • Clancy v. Jack Ryan Enters., Ltd., Civil Action No. ELH-17-3371
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 10 Febrero 2021
    ...could transfer those rights to M & A."), aff'd, 856 F. 2d 195 (6th Cir. 1988); Donaldson Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 643 (2d Cir. 1967) (where author was the dominant person in the corporation, court could not find that his work was done at the "instance" of......
  • Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., No. 01CV4667 MMM (AJWx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • 15 Octubre 2001
    ...... is never conclusive"); Picture Music, supra, 457 F.2d at 1216 ("The Court in Donaldson [Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 643 (2d Cir.1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1036, 88 S.Ct. 768, 19 L.Ed.2d 823 (1968)], listed as among the factors that show that there was......
  • Ward v. National Geographic Soc., No. 99 CIV. 12385(LAK).
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 13 Julio 2002
    ...Cir.), cert denied, 409 U.S. 997, 93 S.Ct. 320, 34 L.Ed.2d 262 (1972) (in turn quoting Donaldson Pub. Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 643 (2d Cir.1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1036, 88 S.Ct. 768, 19 L.Ed.2d 823 39. Id. (quoting Picture Music, 457 F.2d at 1217). 40. E.g., A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Siegel v. Time Warner Inc., No. CV-04-8776-SGL(RZX).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • 27 Julio 2007
    ...engage those other than the commissioning party in marketing his or her work. See Donaldson Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 642-43 (2nd Cir.1967). "In contrast, where the creator of a work receives royalties as payment, that method of payment generally weighs ag......
  • Clancy v. Jack Ryan Enters., Ltd., Civil Action No. ELH-17-3371
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 10 Febrero 2021
    ...could transfer those rights to M & A."), aff'd, 856 F. 2d 195 (6th Cir. 1988); Donaldson Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 643 (2d Cir. 1967) (where author was the dominant person in the corporation, court could not find that his work was done at the "instance" of......
  • Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., No. 01CV4667 MMM (AJWx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • 15 Octubre 2001
    ...... is never conclusive"); Picture Music, supra, 457 F.2d at 1216 ("The Court in Donaldson [Publishing Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 643 (2d Cir.1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1036, 88 S.Ct. 768, 19 L.Ed.2d 823 (1968)], listed as among the factors that show that there was......
  • Ward v. National Geographic Soc., No. 99 CIV. 12385(LAK).
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • 13 Julio 2002
    ...Cir.), cert denied, 409 U.S. 997, 93 S.Ct. 320, 34 L.Ed.2d 262 (1972) (in turn quoting Donaldson Pub. Co. v. Bregman, Vocco & Conn, Inc., 375 F.2d 639, 643 (2d Cir.1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1036, 88 S.Ct. 768, 19 L.Ed.2d 823 39. Id. (quoting Picture Music, 457 F.2d at 1217). 40. E.g., A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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