Everyone in Florida’s music industry knows that one big hit can make a huge difference in their lives. What’s harder for understand is that, when intellectual property rights are properly managed, a big hit can be a sort of gift that keeps on giving. Royalties can continue to pour in for decades after a hit recording. In some cases, creators can use provisions of copyright law to maximize their share of these royalties. Unfortunately, this can sometimes create problems of its own.

In an unusual collision of divorce law and copyright law, singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson’s ex-wife is suing him, seeking a share of royalties from his Motown hits. The couple were married in 1957 and for a time, the ex-wife sang as part of Robinson’s backup group, the Miracles. She claims she left to stay home while raising the couple’s children. The couple divorced in 1986.

More than a quarter-century later, the ex-wife has renewed the dispute over the division of property within their divorce. At issue is the complex concept of copyright assignment termination. Robinson has recently filed to terminate assignments of some of his copyrights in order to regain control over his old work and maximize his share of the royalties from hits such as "The Tears of a Clown" and "You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.

Robinson’s ex-wife claims that because reclaiming control over his copyrights could substantially increase Robinson’s income from these works, the termination rights should have been considered as an asset during the couple’s 1986 divorce. She claims she should be entitled to 50 percent of the income from these assets. Robinson’s attorneys dispute her claim, arguing that the Copyright Act specifically provides that the rights should, after a period of time, return to the creator of the work and the creator alone.

The dispute shows how complex intellectual property issues can become in the entertainment business. It’s crucial for Florida residents who work in the business to have the help of attorneys who understand the issues at work and know how to fight for the interests of their clients.

The Hollywood Reporter, Smokey Robinson’s Ex-Wife Demands Share of Hit Songs Eriq Gardner, May 5, 2014