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December 9, 2016
PUERTO RICO SUPREME COURT DECIDES ON ECONOMIC REGIME APPLICABLE TO UNSOLD WORKS OF MAESTRO JULIO ROSADO DEL VALLE
In a decision issued on November 23, 2016, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court tackled the question of whether the unsold works left upon his death by world renowned painter, Julio Rosado Del Valle were conjugal community property subject to division with his widow or whether they were privately owned by the painter (“bien privativo”).
The controversy began in April 2009, after the passing of Rosado Del Valle, between his widow and his heirs from prior marriages (a daughter, a son, and a grandson) during the process of liquidating the painter’s estate. Rosado Del Valle died intestate in 2008 and the estate was comprised, principally, of 274 works of art, mostly paintings, which were under the artist’s control.
Under conjugal community property principles, the widow claimed a stake over all the works created by the Maestro during their marriage, including those he had not sold or licensed. In addition, she claimed as hers a total of 91 works which she declared the painter had given her as gifts: 35 works, prior to the marriage, and 56, during the marriage. In total, the widow was demanding two thirds of Rosado's works.
Under the Puerto Rico Moral Rights Act, the heirs alleged that ownership of Rosado’s intellectual property rights over the works including the material objects in which the works were embodied were privately owned by the Maestro and that traditional conjugal community property principles, including the presumption that all marital property is communal, did not apply to intellectual property.
With regard to the gifts, the heirs argued that the evidence of the Maestro’s intention to give them to his spouse was at best questionable, and in any event, such gifts violated the Civil Code’s bar against donations among spouses, and were therefore null and void.
In a 44 page decision, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico determined that due to the special character of a work of authorship, and in light of the rights recognized by the Puerto Rico Moral Rights Act, co-ownership of the paintings between spouses would impinge on the artist’s personal rights to decide when and who to sell to, how to dispose of, or when to publish or withdraw the work. Consistent with that holding, the High Court decided that those works of authorship which are not the object of a commercial exploitation agreement or that have not been sold before the death of the author, are not community property and belong to the deceased’s estate exclusively, even if common funds were used for their creation. The surviving spouse will have a credit for expenses incurred by the artist in the purchase of the materials, such as paint, brushes, boards, etc. which were necessary to create the work.
The Supreme Court deferred to the Court of First Instance's adjudication of credibility and the applicable law regarding the gifts from the Maestro to his wife which were inconsistent with her ownership theory.
The decision clarifies important intellectual property and family law questions.