You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” is one of the many hit songs written by William “Smokey” Robinson, but it might be what he’s saying about ex-wife Claudette Robinson who filed suit regarding royalties for past compositions. This dispute could create precedent for those in the music business whose devotion didn’t last through the ages. It’s not often that copyright law and family law intermix, but such is the case in a dispute that involves a no-longer obscure provision of the 1976 Copyright Act. Like many musicians, Robinson is now attempting to exploit the law’s termination protocol to reclaim rights to his works. Congress enacted this termination provision as it extended the term of copyright with the intention to give artists who had handed their rights over without much bargaining power another chance to enjoy the fruits of early career stage labors.
Since enactment, artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Tom Petty have filed termination notices. Robinson has too, but upon hearing from his ex-wife, he filed a lawsuit in March seeking declaratory relief that he wouldn’t have to share reclaimed rights. On Friday, Claudette Robinson filed counterclaims, alleging not only is she entitled to 50 percent of his compositions, but that her ex-husband has breached fiduciary duty, committed constructive fraud and anticipatorily breached the terms of a 1989 stipulated judgment made three years after their divorce. The Robinsons were married for 27 years between 1957 and 1986. They had two children together. They sang together as part of The Miracles, but Claudette says that in 1964, she stopped touring to be able to take care of the kids. Now, the question arises whether recaptured copyrights should be defined as community property or separate property under California family law.