Celebrity Edits and Signs Mag Article- Copyright Question

Could I legally sell copies of a magazine article that Kurt Cobain edited and signed at a record signing session?

In the early 1990’s, Nirvana had a record signing session at a nearby record store. Apparently they were not popular yet and not a lot of people showed up. A friend of mine took an indie music magazine (Alternative Music Press or something like that) that had an article about them to get them to sign it. Not only did Kurdt (that is the way he signed his name) sign the article, but he corrected it- scratching out parts and putting notes in the margins. It is interesting to read and you can see his sense of humor.

I told another friend who is a big Nirvana fan about the article and he offered my friend money to get a copy of it. Would this be legal?

You can legally sell that actual, autographed copy of the magazine.

I don’t believe you can legally publish and sell copies of the article.
Because the article is no doubt copyrighted by the magazine and the author. And the edited version is the property of the estate of Kurt Cobain, since he is the author of the edits & additions.

t-bonham is correct.

Yep. You’ve got an enormously valuable collectible there. But it’s not an extendable collectible.

You can photocopy the article and give a copy to your friend.

I kinda figured, mainly because of the copywrited magazine article.

So is everything that Kurt Cobain produced in his lifetime copywrited and owned by the estate?

Lets suppose, for example, that instead of editing the article, he wrote down a short poem or drew a picture on the back of a manila envelope that my friend had and just gave it to her without any sort of instruction. Or lets suppose that his 7th grade art teacher wanted to put together a book of his art that Kurt gave her when he was 13. Would they legally be able to see copies of these things without permission from Kurt’s estate?

Is everything that I (as a regular guy) ever produced my sole property to copy or distribute for profit? or do I have to fill out some paperwork to make that so?

Yes, every creative work by Kurt Cobain, whether it was a 7th grade art piece or a letter he wrote or a doodle he sketched, was under copyright from the moment of creation. Same thing with your own creations.

And no you do not have to fill out some paperwork to make the work under copyright. However, if you want to sue someone for infringement of your copyright, you do have to first register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.

This all depends on the specifics of the transaction. I can’t think of any extenuating circumstances off the top of my head, but if one gives someone else a work (particularly without any instruction), that act of giving can be reasonably construed to show transfer of all rights in that work. There are other factors to consider, too (though no bright line test that I know of): money exchanged, the reason for the giving, trade for value, promises made, employment of the creator… The first example you gave is the easier of the two. Without more, it is reasonably apparent that your friend is the new owner of the work. It is up to the creator to establish suit and claim copyright ownership.

You also are entitled to staturoy damages and the ability to sue for attorney’s fees.

No, wrong! Not under U.S. copyright law. Any assignment of copyright must be made in writing. Transfer of the object does not imply transfer of the copyright. This includes the sale of original works of art. You own the object, but the artist retains the copyright.

U.S. Copyright Law, Title 17 of the United States Code:

No. You can’t. When something is copyrighted you can’t copy it. Whether you sell it or give it away is completely irrelevant.

There are exceptions for “fair use,” but they do not allow for copying something in its entirety. You could, for example, copy just the signature to send to a verification service, or copy a few sentences if you wrote an article about the article. Photocopying the whole thing and giving it to your friend is a blatant violation of copyright law.

No, Cobain (and subsequently his estate) has copyright interest only the words he actually wrote himself. He is not the owner of the edited version as a whole.

Do you know how to read? :dubious: The section (that you Walloon) quoted deals with the difference in ownership of the actual copyright versus ownership of the medium in which the copyright is held. In the Kurt Cobain example (picture and poem on the back of a manila envelope), you cannot separate the copright work (let’s assume for ease that the picture and poem are one work) from the envelope (technically, you can rip the poem, but that starts getting into derivative work and I don’t want to complicate the issue any more that it needs.) If we were talking about ripping songs from CDs, then maybe your quoted section may have some relevance, but you have to first talk about transfer of ownership, § 201(d). The only relevant part to talk about is § 201(d)(1) which I’ll gladly quote for you:

[empahsis added]

Do you know what a gift is and how it relates to this section? Hint: it sounds like “conveyance.” :slight_smile:

Please be kind enough to read the rest of my post. There were basic assumptions as well as test criteria. Do you want a spelled out analysis:

Ok, Kurt’s a singer/songwriter, not an artist, poet. He has a medium of which he sells his work: CDs, DVDs, downloads, etc., all done through his label, Interscope (they handle all his proceeds, his royalties, his marketing and his sales). He draws a picture on the back of an envelope and scribes some words he thinks are poetic. chriscya’s friend has neither commissioned a sale, nor has asked for a work from Kurt. Yet, Kurt does his scribblings anyway and gives it to chriscya’s friend. There is nothing indicating that perhaps Kurt was designing something for the friend to review. Without more, one can reasonably argue that Kurt gave total ownership of the envelope and the work on it. It is up to Kurt and his estate to establish that Kurt is still the owner of the copyright. It is a fight that I do not see him winning.

None of this is relevant to the issue of who holds copyright interest in Cobain’s scribblings.

I don’t understand the legal significance of this statement.

This is not a reasonable argument. The way the Copyright Act is structured, an author automatically holds all copyright interest in his or her works. He need make no formality to claim copyright interest. What is reasonable to argue is that Cobain transferred ownership in the physical object to the receiver, not any copyright interest in the work.

I am puzzled as to how you come to this conclusion. The copyright law automatically gives copyright interest to an author or creator. Transfers of copyright interest must be in writing. The statute (as quoted above) clearly distinguishes between ownership of copyright interest and ownership of an object that contains a copyrighted work.

Just to clarify, when you quote this portion here:

You must understand what the terms of art mean.

A “means of conveyance” is a legal instrument (such as a will or a contract) that purports to convey ownership of something to another person. Handing someone something is not a “means of conveyance” under the law. Handing someone something may very well indicate an intent to convey ownership of the object, but does not qualify as a legal means of conveying copyright interest in any creative works that might be contained in the object.

“By operation of law” is a reference to a law that automatically changes the ownership of something without any affirmative action taken by the owner. The prime example is inheritance law when a person dies intestate (without a will). In that case, there is no “means of conveyance” (a will or other legal instrument) that evidences the copyright owner’s intent to convey, so the applicable probate law will tell you who gets to inherit the copyright interest in the dead person’s creative works. Handing someone something does not qualify as conveying ownership of a copyright “by operation of law.”

I was assuming far too much. :smack: Gifts have to be prefected ultimately in writing. I was assuming that Kurt would not object to transfering all right to his work. Again, my apologies.

I was trying to preempt the issue of any work for hire, and draw away an expectation that Kurt wasn’t making a gift.

Again, trying to show that it wasn’t a work, per se. Rather, Kurt implying that it was, again, a gift.

I am positive, but I cannot find the relevant case law, where gifts can be conveyed without writing, which includes all transfer or rights, title and interest. I do know, because I worked on such a case back at the firm, where the gift was ultimately perfected through a written deed transfer, after the gift had taken place. Thanks for your corrections.