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Among the various sorts of property, choses in action stand apart as distinct. And within the class “choses in action” the position of copyright is distinct again. Like most choses in action, copyright is assignable.1 However, once copyright has been assigned away, one thing can happen that does not happen to other choses in action: the legal title may revert to the original owner automatically. Legal title to a contractual right, for example, can return to the assignor only if the assignee reassigns it under s 136 of the Law of Property Act 1925 (“LPA”).2 As Crosstown Music Co 1 LLC v. Rive Droite Music Ltd3 shows, there are two reasons for this which are overlooked surprisingly often. Formally, choses in action variously arise from statutes, contracts and other legal sources; different assignment rules can apply depending on the source of the particular chose. Substantively, different assignment rules can be appropriate depending on the content and enforceability of different intangible rights. It is therefore legally uninformative to class copyrights and quite different forms of intangible property together as choses in action.
The question in Crosstown was whether an assignee-publisher’s failure to remedy a material breach of a publisher’s agreement caused the copyrights in songs automatically to revert to the assignor-songwriters. Clause 18(a) provided: