Oscar-Winning Composer Gets Victory in Copyright Assignment Dispute

Written August 27, 2019

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on August 21, 2019, held that Ennio Morricone, an Academy Award-winning Italian composer, can terminate an assignment of copyrights for six film scores he created in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ennio Morricone Music Inc. v. Bixio Music Group Ltd., 2d Cir., No. 17‐3595, 8/21/19.

Ennio Morricone was commissioned by Bixio Music Group to compose six scores for Italian films; he received three million lire and limited ongoing royalties, but agreed to transfer his copyrights to Bixio “forever” and “in all Countries in the world.”

In 2012, Morricone Music served Bixio with a notice terminating the assignment of its US copyrights in the scores under 17 USC § 203, which allows copyright owners to terminate a contractual assignment after 35 years for “any work other than a work made for hire.”

Bixio argued that the scores were “commissioned” works under Italian law, which it said was “an analog sufficiently close to US law that the scores should be considered ‘works made for hire’ under US law.”

The lower court agreed, granting summary judgment to Bixio.

However, the Second Circuit reversed, finding that there were “meaningful differences” between Italian and US law that meant the scores weren’t equivalent to works made for hire. Specifically, under US law the hiring party owns a work made for hire, while under Italian law a composer retains sole authorship in a commissioned film score.