September 26, 2011

6th Circuit Rules On Copyright Issue

Severe Records, LLC v. Rich et al., No. 09-6175 (6th Cir. Sep. 23, 2011).

Plaintiff Mark Christopher “Chris” Sevier authored a song entitled “Better.” Defendant Shanna Crooks recorded the song and, because they were pleased with the results, they co-authored and recorded a second song, “Watching Me Leave.” Their relationship then collapsed, Crooks signed as a recording artist with unrelated recording and management companies, and various
accusations and altercations followed, precipitating this action. Sevier and his recording company, Severe Records, LLC (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit, alleging what Sevier characterized as a “novel” claim of copyright infringement against Crooks and
others for preventing Plaintiffs from commercially exploiting the two songs through threats contained in cease-and-desist letters and requests to music retailers that the songs not be offered for sale. Plaintiffs also sought a declaratory judgment regarding the authorship of the songs and ownership of the copyrights to the two songs. The district court dismissed the amended complaint for failing to state a claim of copyright infringement and declined to consider Plaintiffs’ pendent state law claims or issue a declaratory judgment. The 6th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the copyright infringement claim and reversed its dismissal of the
declaratory judgment claim.

There is no allegation anywhere in the amended complaint that Crooks did anything with the musical composition “Better” other than utilize the sound recording that she and Sevier created and that she was admittedly permitted to use for commercial or non-commercial gain. Indeed, Plaintiffs conceded in paragraph 735 of their amended complaint that “[t]he Defendants did not engage in unauthorized copying, but rather, their actions prevented Plaintiffs from copying.” That ends the inquiry; no claim for copyright infringement was properly alleged. Plaintiffs’ allegation that “Crooks attempted to transfer and did transfer an interest in the composition ‘Better’, [sic] which she did not own, to the Rich Defendants” is not the same thing as creating an improper copy of “Better.” We read nothing in the plain language of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106, to suggest that such a transfer constitutes copyright infringement. We expressly decline Plaintiffs’ invitation to grossly expand copyright infringement causes of action to include any acts that create barriers to a copyright holder’s ability to fully exploit that copyright.

Judge Reduces TM Jury Verdict Award To Hendrix

Experience Hendrix, LLC v., Ltd. et al., No. 2:09-cv-00285 (W.D. Wash. filed Sep. 21, 2011) [Doc. 160].

Plaintiffs own various tradmarks incorporating Jimi Hendrix's name, image, signature, song titles and/or lyrics. Defendants used one or more of these federally registered markes on products bearing Hendrix's image or art he created. The case proceeded to trial on three issues: damages for trademark infringement, defendants' liability for violation of Washington's Consumer Protection Act, and upon a finding of liability, actual damages for the consumer protection violation. After trial, the jury deliberated and rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiffs awarding, on the infringement claim, actual damages of $306,650 and defendants' profits of $60,000.

The Court concluded that the evidence, when construed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, permitted only one reasonable conclusion, which was contrary to the jury's verdict concerning lost profits. "Having entirely failed to carry their burden proving expenses, plaintiffs are not entitled, as a matter of law, to an award of lost profits."

The Court further concluded that the jury's awards for injury to reputation and injury to goodwill were contrary to the Court's instructions and unsupported by the evidence.

The Court denied plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees under the Lanham Act in light of defendants' overall success and lack of bad faith. However, Plaintiffs were entitled to attorneys fees under the state consumer protection claim -- which the Court limited to $50,000 (or 10% of the amount requested by Plaintiffs).

Lastly, the Court entered a limited permanent injunction.