Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990) p.361
renewal of copyright
Holder of renewal copyright in magazine story brought infringement action against those who held rights in motion picture which had been made from the story during the original copyright term.
The District Court entered judgment in favor of holders of rights in motion picture, and holder of rights in the story appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 863 F.2d 1465, reversed.
Whether the owner of the derivative work infringed the rights of the successor owner of hte pre-existing work continued distribution and publication of the derivative work during the renwal term of the pre-existing work.
Original author can contract away his expectancy, but he cannot contract away his heirs expectancy.
The Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor, held that: (1) when author dies before renewal period arrives, his statutory successors are entitled to renewal rights even though the author has previously assigned the renewal rights to another party; (2) owner of derivative work does not retain right to exploit that work when the death of the author causes the renewal rights in the preexisting work to revert to the statutory successors; and (3) motion picture was not fair use of the story. Affirmed.
This is because it sometimes takes a long time for a work to become popular and you don't want to deprive the heirs of that benefit.