Leahy Bill Insures Copyright Rights Pass to Spouses

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee until the new Congress starts in January, has introduced a bill that would insure that rights under the Copyright Act can be inherited by same-sex spouses.

The Copyright Act grants rights to a surviving spouse only if the marriage is recognized in the owner's state of residence at the time of death. Leahy says that is a loophole the law will close.

"Artists are the creative lifeblood of our nation, and our laws should protect their families equally," Leahy said in introducing the Copyright and Marriage Equality Act.  "It is wrong for the federal government to deny benefits or privileges to couples who have lawfully wed. Statutes like the Copyright Act, or laws governing the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs which also contain remnants of discrimination, are no place for inequality in our country. It is time to fix these outdated laws once and for all."

The bill "will ensure that the rights attached to the works of our nation's gay and lesbian authors, musicians, painters, photographers, and other creators pass to their widows and widowers," Leahy's website said in outlining the legislation

A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

The Writers of America West praised Leahy's bill, as they have the House version introduced by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), IIeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

"For more than 100 years, the law has allowed next of kin to inherit the rights of copyright owners. The Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor ensures that same-sex married couples receive federal benefits, such as social security and veterans' benefits, spousal health coverage, and the right to file joint tax returns," said WGAW in a statement. "It will, however, require a change in law to ensure equal treatment of all marriages under the Copyright Act. The legislation introduced in the Senate and House, by Chairman Leahy and Congressman Kilmer, respectively, will make this change."

“The protection of the intellectual property works of gay creators is crucial not only as a matter of equality but as a basic right under our marriage and property laws," said Christopher Wood, executive director of the LGBT Technology Partnership. "Senator Leahy’s bill removes archaic language and ambiguity that would otherwise disparately impact gay creators. We applaud Senator Leahy’s clarification of the Copyright Act to bring this law in line with the new reality of marriage equality in the United States. As Senator Leahy himself stated, it’s time to fix these outdated laws once and for all.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.