One day in 1985, Smokey Robinson said to his then wife Claudette Rogers “I wanna leave you, don’t wanna stay here . . . . Don’t wanna spend another day here . . . . I wanna split now.”

Now, there’s some sad things known to man, but ain’t too much sadder than re-opening a closed wound.

That may be what happened when Claudette Rogers and her attorney came knocking on his door last year, saying “I need some money, honey . . . . I need some money right away . . . . I need some money bad.”

At issue in this case are Smokey Robinson’s rights to his songs that predate 1978. Smokey Robinson is claiming his rights to the previously assigned copyrights, as he is entitled to under U.S. law after 35 years from the date of copyright (when asked to comment on those 35 years, Smokey noted that “It went by so fast”). However, his ex-wife believes she is entitled to some of these rights. As reports:

“[W]hen Claudette became aware of his search for a buyer and administrator of his recaptured copyrights, she sent the performing rights organization SESAC a letter ‘purporting to provide notice of defendant’s alleged interests in plaintiff’s ‘recaptured’ copyrights.’ The Dec. 2, 2013 letter from counsel is attached to the complaint as Exhibit A. In it, Claudette claims 50 percent interest and demands 50 percent payment of the royalties and advances from all songs she claims as community property.

‘She is entitled to half the publisher’s share and half the writer’s share,’ Claudette’s counsel wrote in a Dec. 6 follow-up email.”

For his part, Smokey and his attorneys  argue in a preemptive lawsuit that:

“[T]he copyrights [Smokey] has recaptured and may continue to recapture upon termination of the assignments to the music publisher belong in part to her pursuant to California community property law. However, the 1976 Copyright Act expressly provides that these ‘recaptured’ copyrights belong to the author alone, which is plaintiff. Moreover, the 1976 Copyright Act precludes any transfer of those copyrights before the terminations themselves are effective. Thus, any transfer of such rights to any third party, whether defendant or a music publisher, was barred by the 1976 Copyright Act, and is therefore null and void.”

When asked to comment on the situation, Smokey Robinson told reporters “Really I’m sad, oh sadder than sad . . . Now if there’s a smile upon my face . . . Don’t let my glad expression . . . Give you the wrong impression . . . Don’t let the smile I wear . . . Make you think that I don’t care . . .  Really I’m sad I’m hurting so bad”

The ball is now in the judge’s court. So judge, “whatcha gonna do?”

Matt Ginther

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