May 8, 2013

Publisher Denied Attorney's Fees

De Walt v. Jobete Musc Co., No. B240650 (Cal. App. Ct., 2d Dist. filed May 7, 2013).

The California appellate court held that a publisher (related to MoTown) could not recover attorney's fees  in a royalties related suit in which the publisher prevailed because the company didn't move for the fees in the initial trial over copyright-misappropriation claims.

This case arises from an underlying action filed in 2003 by respondents,1 who are the heirs of the late musician and composer Autry De Walt, professionally known as Junior Walker (De Walt), against appellant Jobete Music Co., Inc. (Jobete). In the underlying action, respondents disputed the ownership of renewal copyrights of certain songs and sought a declaration as to which of several contracts between De Walt and Jobete were applicable. A jury found the most recent contract governed, and judgment was entered in favor of Jobete and affirmed on appeal. Although Jobete filed a memorandum of costs in the underlying action, it did not seek its attorney fees. Instead, over the next several years, Jobete unilaterally offset from the royalties payable to respondents amounts it claimed were incurred as attorney fees in the underlying action. In 2009, respondents sued Jobete for breach of contract and conversion. Following a bench trial based on stipulated evidence, the trial court entered judgment in favor of respondents, finding that Jobete was barred from seeking its attorney fees by not pursuing them in the underlying action. We agree that Jobete is no longer entitled to seek its attorney fees. We affirm the judgment in favor of respondents except as to their conversion claim.