Look For the Silver Lining

More copyright hilarity: a decade-old squabble over the rights to the songs of Jerome Kern has a new lease on life:

The granddaughter of the late composer Jerome Kern won the latest round in a long-standing legal dispute with the manager of a trust that oversees royalties from hits like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and The Way You Look Tonight.

The nearly 10-year-old conflict made its way to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which on Wednesday reversed a lower court ruling that could have put the case to rest.

The wheels of justice grind exceeedingly fine: this decision only sets forth whether the Kentucky courts are the proper venue to hear the case or not. You can read the overturned Court of Appeals verdict here: basically, Linda Kern Cummings claims that R. Andrew Boose, the attorney who manages the trust that controls Kern’s copyrights, improperly took advantage of the “diminished capacity” of Betty Kern-Miller, Jerome’s daughter, to alter the terms of her will back in the 90s. I haven’t found a whole lot of background on the case, but it bears some hallmarks of a family feud—one of the defendants is Steven Kern Shaw, Cummings’ half-brother, and also the son of clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw: as of this 2005 New York Times story, the younger Shaw was nowhere to be found, and when one finds his own notoriously blunt father calling him “a very weird kid” in public (scroll down), you start to get an inkling why.

Nevertheless, I will remind everyone that Jerome Kern died in 1945; the fact that people are still hiring attorneys to tangle over his royalties 60-plus years later tells you something about the strange state of our current intellectual property regime. And some of those royalties are apparently earmarked as charitable bequests, as Cummings is also suing the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. After hearing that, critic-at-large Moe, not surprisingly, showed teeth.


  1. I know all parties involved in this
    mess and trust me, Betty Kern Miller was NOT in any form of
    diminished capacity, the only diminished capacity in my opinion was her children who have been (also in my opinion) driven by greed all of their sad lives!

  2. I think I knew Steve Kern…in the early 60's someone by the name of Steve Cummings stayed with my family for a time in the Bay Area. He was a friend of my older brother. I remember him as wonderfully kind and patient with me. My family was dysfunctional and within it he seemed the normal one. Of course, I never knew he was the son of someone famous, but my mother did and shared the story with me much later. I will always remember the months he was with us as a charmed moment in my life.

Leave a Reply to Robert F. JonesCancel reply