The Back Story for the Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

A California filmmaker, Len Dell’Amico, is suing the Grateful Dead for copyright infringement over his allegation that the band leased documentaries and concert films that he created and owned. This long, strange trip begins in 1980 when Dell’Amico, a NYU film and television grad, first worked with the band on it’s live TV broadcast and home video ‘Dead Ahead.’ Dell’Amico would go on to be the Dead’s ‘film and video guy’ for the next 11 years, producing and directing their film projects from 1984 to 1991. Dell’Amico also claims in his lawsuit that they negotiated a deal for back-end compensation from the video release of these works. The years rolled along and, in late 2006, Grateful Dead Productions leased the films to Rhino Entertainment for 10 years. Rhino never credited Dell’Amico for producing and directing the films, nor paid him the promised back-end compensation (“royalties”). The lawsuit was on.

Failure to Register Copyrights Creates a Problem

But here’s the rub: Dell’Amico never applied to register any copyrights to the films until recently. The registrations are currently pending at the U.S. Copyright Office. Dell’Amico lacks definitive proof that he actually owns the right to the films. And this is exactly what the band is arguing. The Grateful Dead recall things differently from Dell’Amico and claim he was only a hired gun to produce and direct their films. The band owns all rights to the films because Dell’Amico was compensated for his work and their arrangement kept copyright ownership with the band. As it stands, without the clear proof of copyright registration, it’s a he said, they said matter.

Copyright Ownership Can Still be Proven in Other Ways

This doesn’t mean that Dell’Amico’s lawsuit is busted down on Bourbon Street. A 2002 agreement for a Grateful Dead documentary “So Far” gives Dell’Amico a 50 percent cut of the film’s revenue up to $25,000 and 15 percent of gross income over $750,000. This agreement does provide some proof that Dell’Amico created and owns the rights to the films that are the subject of his lawsuit. That agreement clearly came about because there was a belief Dell’Amico owned the copyright to the film. It may also show that he owns the copyright to the films that are the subject of his lawsuit.

Two Important Lessons from this Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

However the lawsuit plays out, the dispute highlights two important principles. The first is an overwhelming reason to register your copyrights. Dell’Amico likely would have a much easier time proving his allegations if he had taken the time to register any copyrights two decades ago. This lack of foresight could cost him big time. The second is over the issue of copyright ownership. If you are hired to create works that are covered by copyright law (music, film, television, dance, etc.), an important part of that arrangement is who keeps ownership of the copyright to the works.

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Ari Good, JD LLM, is an experienced Miami entertainment lawyer and aspiring musician himself who represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models, and other entertainers in copyright, licensing, and contract matters.

For a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights, contact Ari of Good Attorneys at Law, P.A., in Miami-Dade County at (239) 216-4106 or toll free at (877) 771-1131 or by email to .

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