The Lurking Danger of Limited License Durations

Eriq Gardner at THR, Esq. reported earlier this month about a recent lawsuit filed in the United States: CBS Sued Over 63-Year-Old Song Used in ‘Family Ties’.  A copy of the complaint can be found here.  The facts of the claim, as set out in the complaint, are fairly straightforward: in 1985, the producers of the sitcom Family Ties entered into a license agreement with the owners of copyright in a song entitled “The Texaco TV Star Theatre Theme Song”.  The license agreement authorized use of the song in the television broadcast.  In 2008, the current owners of the rights in the sitcom decided to release episodes of the show on DVD – and only subsequently released that they had undertaken an activity which lay beyond the scope of the license they had entered into twenty-three years previously.  Attempts to enter into a retroactively effective license were unsuccessful, and the plaintiffs elected to bring the copyright infringement claim.

The dispute highlights the dangers, for producers of film, TV and other audio-visual content, of the dangers of entering into licenses for content which have a limited duration or a limited scope of authorized media.  It would have been a remarkably prescient individual in 1985 who could have foreseen that popular television shows would have an economically valuable afterlife as home video products – but bargaining for rights “in perpetuity, in all media whether now known or hereafter devised” would have saved some headaches down the line.

Subscribe and stay updated
Receive our latest blog posts by email.
Bob Tarantino

About Bob Tarantino

Bob Tarantino is Counsel at Dentons Canada LLP and focuses his practice on the interface between the entertainment industries and intellectual property law, with an emphasis on film and television production, financing, licensing, distribution, and IP acquisition and protection. His clients range from artists and independent producers to Canadian distributors and foreign studios and financiers at every stage of the creative process, from development to delivery and exploitation.

Full bio