The 70’s were a decade of bright clothes, tight bell bottoms, platforms and disco music, and we have KC and the Sunshine Band, in part, to thank for that. With classic hits from that day, such as Get Down Tonight and That’s the Way I Like It, the band now may have to shake shake shake its booty back to court to defend an infringement suit. That’s because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has has reversed a district court decision that said the son of a former KC and the Sunshine Band member lacked standing to sue the group and others for copyright infringement. And now who will get the legal Spank in this matter?
In the late 70’s, Ronald Louis Smith Sr., the former band member, wrote the song Spank for Jimmy Bo Horne. Harrick Music, an affiliate of Sunshine Sound Entertainment, registered the tune naming Smith as the composer and indicating it was not a work for hire. Smith eventually left Sunshine Sound Entertainment with no agreement as to who owned the copyrights to Spank but it was agreed that he would receive royalties for it. He never received royalties and before his death sent a cease-and-desist letter revoking Harrick Music’s authority to administer the song, which the company continued to exploit.
After Smith’s death, his son Ronald Louis Smith Jr. sued on behalf of his father’s estate for copyright infringment: Harry Wayne Casey, front man of KC and The Sunshine Ban; KC and the Sunshine Band Inc.; Sunshine Sound Entertainment; Harrick Music.
The appellate court held that Smith may rely on Harrick’s registration of Spank to bring an infringement claim. That’s because Smith, as a beneficial owner in the musical composition, was named as the composer and Harrick specifically indicated that the work was not for hire. Although Smith signed his legal rights to the work in exchange for royalties, Smith still has a beneficial interest which is sufficient for statutory standing under the Copyright Act.
So it’s back to the district court for all parties to “get down tonight,” or something to the legal effect therein: