Copyright Law

Composer's heirs sue CBS over use of iconic 'Hawaii Five-0' theme music in TV show remake

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If CBS hadn’t rebooted a classic television show, then a renewal by CBS of the copyright registration for the original Hawaii Five-0’s iconic theme song decades ago likely would have gone unnoticed.

However, following the airing of the new Hawaii Five-0 series, heirs of Morton Stevens filed a copyright infringement suit against CBS over its use of the award-winning TV and film music composer’s work. And based on what was said last year in a U.S. Supreme Court copyright decision concerning the movie Raging Bull, it appears the heirs could have a winning case, says the Hollywood Reporter.

A majority opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Raging Bull case declined to require heirs to sue soon after learning of a wrongful renewal filing. So the fact that Stevens’ heirs are only now complaining that CBS filed a 1997 renewal for the Hawaii Five-0 theme may not be a problem for them. CBS originally had rights to the theme. But because Stevens died in 1991 before the copyright expired, the rights at that point were transferred to his heirs, the article explains.

CBS has a different view, as the network explained in a written statement provided to the Hollywood Reporter.

“We were surprised and disappointed by the lawsuit filed by the heirs of Morton Stevens more than five years after the new Hawaii Five-0 series premiered, without any prior discussion between the parties,” CBS wrote. “Although we have great respect and appreciation for Mr. Stevens’ work on the original Hawaii Five-0 theme song, his heirs’ claims are without merit, and we will vigorously defend this case.”

Filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday, the suit seeks damages and injunctive relief, according to Reuters.

A YouTube video posted by CBS in 2010 describes the process the studio went through to record a new orchestration of the song for the modern version of Hawaii Five-0.

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