by Ian Dunham, Policy Fellow
On June 26, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states. We at FMC were among those celebrating this step forward for equality and civil rights.
The right to marry carries with it a whole host of federal benefits, one of which is inheritance rights. These can be especially important to musicians and songwriters, whose copyrighted works are typically passed on to “statutory heirs” upon the artists’ death. Essentially, the rulling has enveloped the concerns put forward in the bipartisan Copyright And Marriage Equality Act (covered here in our legislation tracker). That act, which would have allowed for a copyright holder’s spouse to inherit the rights to that work regardless of gender. Previously, if a couple married in a state that recognized same-sex marriage but resided in a state that did not recognize their marriage, a surviving spouse might be denied their rights as statutory heir to their late spouse’s copyrights. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court, the Act is now essentially a moot point. Same-sex spouses will now have the same inheritance rights for their musical copyrights as opposite-sex spouses in every state in the Union.
As we celebrate that this legislation is no longer needed in light of the SCOTUS ruling, it’s a good moment to pause to recognize the efforts of the lawmakers that sponsored this bill: representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-WA), as well as numerous cosponsors. One of the best things about copyright is that it is intended to afford the same protections to all creators, and these elected officials’ leadership demonstrated an active desire to make sure that all families have access to that protection. It’s also a good reminder that keeping copyright protection uniform at the federal level is a good way to achieve fair, consistent, and predictable protections, often preferable to laws that vary from state to state.
Photo by Lindsay Douglas via Shutterstock