Copyright lawyer: Ellis didn’t put district at risk

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Click here for live coverage in Chris Kieffer’s blog now. Includes coverage of Calvin Ellis’ hearing today.

TUPELO – An expert witness called by Calvin Ellis’ attorney on Thursday disputed the school district’s claims that the former Tupelo High School choral director had violated copyright laws.
Ramona DeSalvo, a copyright lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., testified via online video during most of the afternoon on Thursday, the seventh day of Ellis’ personnel hearing.
She said that when arrangers create an arrangement for a public school show choir, the arranger is responsible for obtaining copyright permission when there is not a written contract between that person and the school.
In this case there were no such contracts. Had there been, she said, it would have transferred authorship to the school and made it responsible for obtaining that permission.
“In the cases where there is no written agreement with the school, and the arranger has not gotten permission from the publisher, it is the arranger who has infringed, not the school and not Mr. Ellis,” she said.
Meanwhile, in the case where Ellis arranged songs, the district would not have been liable, she said.
David Butts, who is representing Ellis in the hearing, began his defense on Thursday afternoon after the district rested earlier in the day.
Jim Keith, the district’s lead attorney, was just beginning his cross examination of DeSalvo, Butts’ second witness, when the hearing recessed for the day. It will resume on Friday morning at 8:30 at the Hancock Leadership Center.
If the hearing doesn’t conclude today, it will most likely be recessed until Feb. 13-14.
Ellis testified earlier in the day that he received a written contract from an arranger for the first time during the summer. The contract and subsequent conversations made him aware of his need to secure copyright permissions, he said. When he did not get them in time for his group’s October show, he canceled that show.
DeSalvo, however, testified that Ellis only needed to get permission for the four works done by the arranger who sent him a contract. She also said that, in this case, the law would have allowed those songs to be publicly performed.
“That show could have gone on,” she said.
Meanwhile, Keith questioned Ellis about expenditures of booster club money without the board’s permission. Ellis said that the board never questioned him about those expenditures or asked him to return the money.
Keith also questioned Ellis about an angry email he sent the the booster club’s board after a board member told him he could not alter the budget by taking money from another fund to pay an arranger.
“It is frustrating that I need to do what is best for the group when you have parents who don’t understand what needs to be done,” he said. “All they are talking about is the dollar, the dollar, the dollar. I am not saying that is not important. It is. But I need some free reign to do what is important for my group.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com