An R&B all-star, who can forget Ray Charles’ rendition of “Georgia on my Mind”? He died on June 10, 2004 at the age of 73 of hepatitis C, leaving behind two ex-wives and twelve children with nine different mothers.
Having reached the pinnacle of show business success, and receiving recognition and awards galore, he became a wealthy man. Two years before he died, he gave his twelve children trust funds of $500,000 each, in exchange for their promises not to challenge the terms of his will. At the time he made these gifts, two of his children were in jail, a fate he managed to avoid despite many years of heroin addiction.
The balance of Mr. Charles’ estate was left to the Ray Charles Foundation for charitable purposes, including hearing-impairment charities and other educational organizations, under the control of his long-time manager Joe Adams.
However, in 2010 Ray Charles’ kids served notice to the record companies and the Foundation that they were terminating the royalty rights on over fifty of their father’s musical compositions, and reclaiming them. U.S. copyright legislation provides that after 35 years, rights to artistic works can be reclaimed by the artist as long as the artist was not an employee of a corporation when he or she created the artistic work.
Interestingly, the recording companies did not challenge the children’s actions, but the Ray Charles Foundation, who received the financial benefit of the royalties, sued the children alleging their father did not own the rights as he was merely an employee of the recording companies. Later in the litigation the Foundation abandoned this position.
On January 28, 2013 Judge Audrey Collins of the United States District Court in California dismissed the Foundation’s lawsuit, finding that the Foundation had no legal status to challenge the copyright notices and ordered the Foundation to pay the children’s legal costs.
Of course, the case is far from over, since the Ray Charles Foundation has announced they will be appealing the ruling.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang