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Arts and Entertainment

Legendary Composer Ennio Morricone Sues To Win Back Rights To Film Scores

Ennio Morricone. (Photo by Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)
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Italian composer Ennio Morricone may be 87, but he's still going strong. Just last year he did the music for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. And right now, he's prepping for a live tour that will take him to Finland, Austria, and Germany in late 2016 and early 2017.

Another one of his projects, it seems, is winning back the rights to three of his film scores. As reported by the Hollywood Reporter, Morricone filed a lawsuit on Monday in New York federal court to secure the rights for music he did for 1978's Cosi Come Sei (Stay As You Are), 1979's Il Giocattolo (A Dangerous Toy) and 1980's Un Sacco Bello (Fun Is Beautiful).

One of the main components of the lawsuit is a provision in the 1976 Copyright Act that allows the author (and heirs) to cancel a copyright grant after 35 years. Which is to say that, while the Bixio Music Group legally held the rights to the scores that Morricone is eyeing, Morricone (the author) was allowed to take back those rights after 35 years had passed. This is the same provision that actor Harry Shearer (a.k.a Mr. Burns) is citing to win back the rights for This Is Spinal Tap. As noted at the Hollywood Reporter, a similar case is brewing around Friday the 13th, and we may be seeing an influx of courtroom drama over works done in the late '70s and early '80s.

The Bixio Music Group, however, isn't hip to Morricone's intentions. As stated in the lawsuit, in 2012 Morricone's company went through the U.S. Copyright Office to send out termination notices to Bixio over the aforementioned scores. However, when the composer attempted to claim for royalties over recent public performances of those scores, Bixio didn't relent. Instead, the company said that the scores were "created as works made for hire" and were thus "not subject to the termination under 17 U.S.C. 203." Morricone denies that the music was done as "works made for hire," and that he'd been acting as an independent contractor the whole time.

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According to the U.S. Copyright Office, under "works made for hire," "an employer is considered the author even if an employee actually created the work. The employer can be a firm, an organization, or an individual." The office also notes that the "concept of 'work made for hire' can be complicated," so we may be looking at a lengthy legal fight.

LAist has requested a statement from Bixio Music Group but did not immediately hear back.

As for those scores, we're not surprised that they're spectacular. Evoking both a sense of wistful longing, as well as the panache of pop stylings, they're pure Morricone. We've included an awesome disco track from Cosi Come Sei, as well as some more traditional selections from Il Giocattolo and Un Sacco Bello.

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