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Smokey Robinson in California community property dispute

by | Mar 19, 2014 | Firm News, Property Division, Property Division |

In a divorce proceeding, there is often heated dispute about the division of marital property. Assets such as money and real estate may provide a few challenges but can usually be divided appropriately. Less tangible assets, such as intellectual property, may pose a more complicated problem. Under California community property laws, they may even become a contentious issue many years after the divorce has been finalized.

Issues with regard to the copyright termination rights under the 1976 Copyright Act have led a number of musical artists to reclaim the rights to their music. Smokey Robinson, the renowned Motown artist, is reported to be one of the artists. The songs in question were created before 1978, when he was married to Claudette Rogers Robinson. They divorced in 1985. Claudette claims that, under the laws of community property in California, she is entitled to 50 percent of the income derived from sales and publication of those songs.

Not surprisingly, Smokey disagrees and has sued for a declaratory judgment to bar his ex-wife from making a community property claim with regard to the songs for which he seeks to reassert the copyright. He argues that the 1976 Copyright Act states specifically that any recovered copyrights are owned by the author alone and cannot be transferred to another party before the time when the copyrights are due to expire. He also claims that his ex-wife’s interest in his assets was fully settled at the time of their divorce.

Moreover, Smokey says that his ex-wife played no part in writing or creating the songs in question and is thus barred from sharing in any income under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. However, another provision of the law provides that a copyright terminates some 70 years following the death of the creator — meaning that heirs or other beneficiaries who also had no input with respect to the creation of the works are entitled to claim payment of royalties following the creator’s death. Smokey argues that it is unfair, when Claudette played no part in the writing or publishing of the material, for her to now be entitled to half of this source of income under California community property laws. The outcome of this interesting proceeding could set a precedent for future litigants rely upon.

Source:, Smokey Robinson Sues Ex-Wife To Prevent Her From Claiming 50% Of His Recaptured Motown Hits, Tim Cushing, March 11, 2014


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