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Penguin Group (USA), Inc. v. Steinbeck

537 F.3d 193 (2008), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 2383 (2009)

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Penguin Group (USA), Inc. v. Steinbeck

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

537 F.3d 193 (2008), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 2383 (2009)

Facts

John Steinbeck entered into an agreement with The Viking Press in 1938 for the publication of some of Steinbeck’s most successful works. The rights granted were later assigned by Viking to Penguin Group (USA) Inc. (plaintiff). When Steinbeck died in 1968, he bequeathed his copyright interests to his widow, Elaine Steinbeck. Later, in 1994, Elaine entered into a new agreement with Penguin. The new agreement provided for the continued publication of all works that were covered by the 1938 agreement, as well as some additional works and more favorable financial terms, and stated that, once signed, it would cancel and supersede the previous agreement. Elaine died in 2003 and bequeathed her copyrights interests to her children and grandchildren from a previous marriage. Then, in 2004, John Steinbeck’s surviving son and grandson (defendants) served a notice of termination on Penguin pursuant to Section 304(c) and (d) of the Copyright Act in an attempt to terminate the grants made by the 1938 agreement. The district court granted summary judgment to the Steinbeck heirs after concluding that the 2004 termination was valid on the grounds that the 1994 agreement was an invalid agreement to the contrary and did not supersede the 1938 grant. Penguin appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Sack, J.)

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