Court favors 'Lassie' creator's daughter

Mewborn can terminate Classic Media's copyrights

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday ruled that the daughter of "Lassie" creator Eric Knight has the right to terminate Classic Media's copyrights to the story of a boy and his dog.

In the 25-page decision, the court found that under the 1976 Copyright Act, Winifred Knight Mewborn was within her rights in 1996 to terminate the copyrights assigned to Classic Media, a company that manages and holds to the rights to many classic TV and film properties, including "Lassie," "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and "The Lone Ranger."

The 1976 law extended the copyrights from 56 to 75 years and created the right of copyright holders to terminate any agreement it had with others.

Classic Media, which through a previous company had been granted the rights by Knight to make the "Lassie" TV series in the 1940s, had filed suit claiming Mewborn did not have the right to terminate those rights.

But the 9th Circuit found Congress's intent in extending the copyrights of owners was a "clear intent to benefit authors and their heirs with additional years of copyright protection in the 1976 Act."

"This sends a strong message to the community that while the studios rightfully fight to protect their libraries against piracy, they, by the same token, must respect the rights of authors on which their businesses are in large part built," said Mewborn's attorney Marc Toberoff.

Classic Media's attorneys could not be reached for comment.