Evel Knievel's Estate Granted Copyright Ownership in Pre-1978 Footage of Daredevil

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Nov. 6 --A 1982 bill of sale that purportedly transferred ownership rights to footage from Evel Knievel's early years as a stuntman did not clearly demonstrate an intent to transfer Knievel's copyright interest in the footage, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada held Nov. 1, bringing an end to a long-running dispute between Knievel's heirs and a party claiming ownership rights in the early footage (Raymond G. Schreiber Revocable Trust v. Estate of Knievel, D. Nev., No. 2:05-cv-00574-LDG-PAL, 11/1/13).

The court ruled in favor of Knievel's estate on the plaintiff's declaratory judgment action seeking an order recognizing it as the rightful owner of the footage in question. The plaintiff, the court ruled, was unable to demonstrate that there was a meeting of the minds with respect to the 1982 agreement--which did not specifically identify the footage--and therefore the copyrights to the footage belonged to Knievel's heirs, the court said. In particular, the court noted that none of the parties to the 1982 agreement “consistently acted as if the film rights bill of sale conveyed the rights in question.”

Moreover, even if an assignment had been made, the relevant footage was all shot before 1978 and therefore the original 28 year copyright term would have expired, the court noted. No subsequent written agreement exists that would entitle the plaintiff to the renewal term, and indeed the footage was not even registered during that initial term.

“Therefore, even assuming a valid copyright assignment of the Knievel stunt footage had been made to plaintiffs through the film rights bill of sale, the term of that assignment has expired,” the court held.

Text is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/R_Gary_Schreiber_etal_VS_Robert_Knievel_etal_Docket_No_205cv00574.

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