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James Brown estate battle spotlights song copyrights

A recent national news profile terms the life of James Brown -- the famed Godfather of Soul -- "a bit messy" for a number of highly chronicled reasons.

That reality renders it not overly surprising that Brown's estate plan directing the administration of his financial affairs following death would also stray a bit from exacting orderliness.

In fact, the estate-linked goings-on since the entertainer died in 2006 are marked by a veritable tsunami of concerns. The aforementioned New York Times article calls Brown's will and the challenges surrounding it "a petri dish for cultivating legal disputes."

At the core of contention is argument concerning estate value, which seems expected owing to Brown's upper-tier status as a performer and his decades-long (and still enduring) popularity.

As is similarly true with the estates of many other artists who crafted their own material, much that is being challenged by interested parties in the wake of Brown's death relates to songs that were written by him during his life. Reportedly, Brown retained the copyrights to more than 900 compositions.

Those are of course extremely valuable currently and potentially for generations to come, and are thus unsurprisingly at the center of litigation between sparring parties. In one federal lawsuit filed in California just last month, many of Brown's children and grandkids are suing the singer's widow and estate administrator for their alleged illegal behavior in transferring so-called "termination rights" inherent in songs to third parties. They claim that the widow needed -- and failed to get -- majority agreement to do so.

Such rights can be tremendously valuable to copyright owners, who can sell them or license the use of covered songs. Although estimates concerning the worth of Brown's compositions vary, some commentators peg their collective value at $100 million or perhaps even more.

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