Copyright Suit Tests Law

The family of late gospel composer Albert E. Brumley is embroiled in a court battle over the royalties to the song “I’ll Fly Away” that could have lasting effects on termination rights in copyright law.

Often, such suits may feature a family fighting against a record label. But the case is unique in the fact that one of Brumley’s sons – Bob Brumley – is being sued by three of his siblings and other family members.

What’s at stake is a reported share of $1.4 million in royalties generated from the song over a period of five years. However, there is a twist. Years ago, Bob Brumley took over the family business which, in this case, was his father’s Albert E. Brumley & Sons that administers the copyrights, making him the sole owner of the rights to “I’ll Fly Away,” the Tennessean reported.

Now, the rest of the family is apparently seeking to terminate Bob Brumley’s exclusive hold on the copyrights to gain access to the royalties.

“This is embarrassing and it’s unfortunate, and I think unnecessary,” Jackson Brumley told the Tennessean. “But we have rights to the copyright, too, and all we did was exercise those rights, and that made him very angry.”

The case is headed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal after a U.S. District Court judge ruled Bob Brumley lacked evidence to support the claim that his mother gave him her share of termination rights before she died, the paper said.

This will be the first time the 6th Circuit has heard a case on termination rights and some expect the decision could have a huge impact.

“Other courts may pay particular attention to what the 6th Circuit does because of the presence of Nashville,” Squire Sanders appellate attorney Pierre Bergeron told the paper.