According to the lawsuit, Charles gave each of his children $500,000 in 2002 under the condition that they would not seek further inheritance claims on his musical estate. The Ray Charles Foundation, which provides funding for research into hearing impairment and educational programs, currently owns all the rights to the intellectual property of Charles, who died in 2002.
The foundation claims that several of Charles’ children are now violating their agreement by seeking copyrights for more than 50 songs.
“In complete disregard of the confidence, trust, and belief in his own children that their father reposed in them,” the lawsuit says, “by undertaking the actions described below in this Complaint, Defendents have reneged on and are in breach or other violation of this agreement.”
According to the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Central California last week, the offspring in question applied in March 2010 to reclaim the copyrights of the songs, under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act that is intended to allow artists to renegotiate their royalty rates after a certain number of years if the value of their work has increased.
The foundation claims that, in addition to the prior agreement not to seek any further portion of their father’s estate, the “termination of transfer” rule does not apply because Charles had already renegotiated his royalty rates with his publishers in 1980. It also contends that some of the songs were works for hire, in which case the artist cannot claim the same rights.
The foundation’s suit seeks to prevent the children from obtaining the copyrights, along with at least $500,000 from each defendant plus court costs, attorneys’ fees and interest.
The Ray Charles Foundation argues that it would be particularly hard hit by the loss of those royalties because it is not allowed to solicit or accept any private donations.
“The self-serving attempts on the part of the Defendants to deprive The Foundation of its said intellectual property rights not only is contrary to the express wishes of their father and in breach of the agreement they signed and promises that they made,” the lawsuit says, “but it is contrary to the best interest of those innocent parties who would be benefited by the grants made by The Foundation.”