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Vidor v. Serlin

7 N.Y.2d 502, 199 N.Y.S.2d 669, 166 N.E.2d 680 (1960)

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Vidor v. Serlin

New York Court of Appeals

7 N.Y.2d 502, 199 N.Y.S.2d 669, 166 N.E.2d 680 (1960)

Facts

In 1954, Romola Nijinsky assigned the exclusive motion-picture rights in two books she had written to Charles Vidor (plaintiff), and Vidor recorded the assignment with the United States Copyright Office (the copyright office). Before the Nijinsky-Vidor assignment, Vidor conducted a title search on the copyright and found the title to be clear, and Nijinsky had warranted that no prior assignments had been made. However, Nijinsky had previously, in 1940, agreed to assign the motion-picture rights in the two books to Basil N. Bass (defendant), who soon after assigned the rights to Oscar Serlin (defendant). The Nijinsky-Bass assignment was eventually recorded with the copyright office, but not until after Vidor’s recording of the Nijinsky-Vidor assignment. Vidor filed suit in a New York court for a declaratory judgment that he was the sole owner of the motion-picture rights. Vidor argued that, even though the Nijinsky-Bass and Bass-Serlin assignments had occurred first in time, Vidor had had no actual or constructive notice of the prior assignments because those assignments were not recorded prior to the Nijinsky-Vidor assignment and recordation. Vidor asserted that his assignment therefore took priority. Bass and Serlin argued that the Nijinsky-Bass assignment was actually a license to the motion-picture rights, which did not require recordation, and therefore that failure to record the license did not give Vidor’s assignment priority over the first-in-time license. The trial court held (1) that the Nijinsky-Bass agreement was an assignment that required recordation, (2) that Vidor did not have actual or constructive notice of the Nijinsky-Bass or Bass-Serlin assignments at the time of the Nijinsky-Vidor assignment because the former were not recorded at the time, and therefore (3) that Vidor was the sole owner of the motion-picture rights. The appellate division affirmed, and Bass and Serlin appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Desmond, C.J.)

Concurrence (Dye, J.)

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