Battle over Copyright Royalties of the Gershwin Brothers

Nearly a decade ago, George and Ira Gershwin, known as the Gershwin brothers, fought to have copyright extended to their songs. Now, after their deaths, the heirs of these songwriting brothers are disputing over how to divide the royalties, which have come from the copyrighting of this music. Since the American royalties were previously divided equally between the brothers, there is no dispute regarding them. However, in the EU copyright law differs from US copyright law. Since, Ira Gershwin outlived his brother by about 40 years, there arises a problem with European copyright law. In the EU, the copyright of a lyricist and a composer are distinct. Furthermore, these rights expire 70 years after the death of the lyricist or composer, and the music then enters the public domain. Thus, since technically George’s copyright earnings on his compositions expired in 2007 in the EU, there is a dispute. Since Ira’s copyright of his lyrics is still effective, his estate still gains royalties from the use of his songs. Thus, Ira’s heirs believe they deserve foreign royalties on his lyrics.

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