For years, the estate of Roger Miller has battled with Sony Music over the ownership of the copyright in songs written by Miller in 1964. In 1964 Miller was under contract with Tree Publishing, which eventually became part of Sony Music. Pursuant to his exclusive songwriter agreement, Tree owned the copyright for the initial 28 year term and for the 28 year renewal term in the songs Miller wrote.
The renewal provisions under the 1909 U.S. Copyright Act were created to give songwriters, authors (other creators) the ability to recapture rights for their family that they may have transferred away. That all sounds clear. But interpretation of this code section (17 U.S.C. 304) in relationship to what happens if the songwriter dies during the 28th year, prior to the renewal term starting in the 29th year, has been difficult and the Roger Miller estate is in the thick of the issue.
Miller died in 1992, the 28th year after writing songs such as “King of the Road” and “Dang Me.” The question pending, does Sony own the renewal copyright because they filed a renewal application in the 28th year prior to Mr. Miller’s death or do Miller’s heirs own the renewal copyright because he died prior to the commencement of the 29th year.
For recent discussions review this article in The Tennessean.