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What Town will Santa Visit in 2016?

The song “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” is a Christmas favorite and has been covered by numerous recording artists over the years since it was first created.  The song was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, and is believed to be first sung on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in November 1934.  It was an instant hit.    

Due to the numerous changes in copyright law over the years since November of 1934, the song has taken quite the winding path “to town.”  Coots and Gillespie transferred their rights in the song to a predecessor of EMI Feist Catalog Inc. in 1934.  Under the then-effective 1909 Copyright Act, EMI’s copyright in the song granted by Coots and Gillespie would extend for an initial 28-year term (until 1962), but then Coots and Gillespie would have the right to renew the copyright for an additional 28-year term.  In addition to the initial grant, Coots granted EMI his renewal rights in 1951, and EMI subsequently renewed its copyright in the song in 1961, anticipating that it’s rights would continue until expiration in 1990.  However, prior to the anticipated expiration, Congress enacted the 1976 Copyright Act, which resulted in extending the song’s renewal term for an additional 19 years, or until 2009.

The 1976 Copyright Act, which extended the song’s copyright until 2009, also added a statutory provision which allowed authors and certain heirs to terminate a grant of copyright which was executed before the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act (specifically, January 1, 1978).  As a result, EMI’s rights granted by the 1951 agreement were eligible for termination and Coots took advantage of this provision by sending a notice of termination to EMI in 1981.  This resulted in a new agreement which provided Coots $100,000 and royalties until the expiration of the copyright term.  Coots passed away in 1985.

In 1998, Congress enacted the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.  The act extended the copyright renewal term for an additional 20 years for those copyrights currently in a renewal period.  As a result, the copyright for “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” was extended until 2029.  Like the earlier Act, this Extension Act also gave Coots’ heirs the opportunity to terminate the 1981 Agreement.  In 2007, the heirs served notice on EMI and selected a termination date of December 15, 2016.  The parties went to court to argue over which Copyright Act and which Agreement applied.  On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the 1981 Agreement governed and according to the facts the termination of the grant could occur 35 years from the execution of the 1981 agreement, as provided for by Section 203 of the 1976 Copyright Act – in this case December 2016. 

As a result, the rights to the song return to the heirs in December of next year.  Santa Claus is Coming Home for Christmas.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is for general informational purposes only. This post is not updated to account for changes in the law and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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