The question presented, one of first impression in the courts of appeals, is whether an action
for infringement by one co-author of a song can be defeated by a “retroactive” transfer of copyright
ownership from another co-author to an alleged infringer. This action arises under the current statute
governing copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq. (“the Copyright Act”),
because “the complaint is [in part] for a remedy expressly granted by [the Copyright Act], e.g., a suit
for infringement . . . , [and] asserts a claim requiring construction of [the Copyright Act], . . . or, at the
very least . . . presents a case where a distinctive policy of [the Copyright Act] requires that federal
principles control the disposition of the claim.” T.B. Harms Co. v. Eliscu, 339 F.2d 823, 828 (2d Cir.
1964) (Friendly, J.).
Plaintiff Sharice Davis (“plaintiff” or “Davis”) appeals from an order of the United States
District Court for the Southern District of New York (Charles S. Haight, Jr., Judge) dismissing by
summary judgment her claims under the Copyright Act, her claim for a declaratory judgment under 28
U.S.C. § 2201, and her state-law claims alleging unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and violations of
New York’s consumer protection statutes. See Davis v. Blige, 419 F. Supp. 2d 493 (S.D.N.Y. 2005). The
District Court concluded that a “retroactive” written agreement between Bruce Chambliss, Davis’s
alleged co-author, and Bruce Miller, one of the defendants, purporting to assign Chambliss’s rights in
two disputed songs as of the time of their creation, was valid. Reasoning that “a co-owner has a legal
right to grant a license without another co-owner’s permission or transfer his rights in the copyright
freely,” id. at 500, the District Court held that the transfer of co-ownership rights by Chambliss to
Miller—who had licensed the copyright to third parties also named as defendants (collectively the
“third-party defendants”) before the written agreement was executed—defeated Davis’s claims not only
against Miller but also against the third-party defendants, who were in privity with Miller.
We disagree, and therefore vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.