After sorting through the tangled 80-year history behind the song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Second Circuit recently held that rights to the Christmas classic will revert back to the songwriter’s heirs on Dec. 15, 2016. Rights to the composition, written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, are currently held by EMI Feist Catalog Inc. According to the Second Circuit, EMI’s rights are derived from a post-Jan. 1, 1978, author-made grant that replaced and superseded a prior grant, and that is now eligible for termination.
The Second Circuit’s decision provides insight into the judicial review of termination rights, and sets out certain principles concerning the statutory calculation of termination dates. This article outlines the court’s decision in order to provide practitioners with guideposts that may be useful in determining if, and when, to terminate a grant of copyright.