Bridgeport Music, et al. v. Smith, et al., No. 12-1523 (6th Cir. May 1, 2013).
This action is based on default judgments entered in 2004 that plaintiff obtained against defendants for copyright infringement of the 1974 song "You’re Getting a Little Too Smart" ("Smart"). Plaintiff was the assignee of the songwriter's rights in the song. In 2011, the songwriter's widow moved to vacate the default judgments, arguing that she, not Plaintiffs, was the legal owner of the copyright by operation of law at the time the lawsuit was filed. The district court denied the motion, as well as her motion for reconsideration, and the widow appealed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, and granted Plaintiffs motion for damages and costs.
After stating the relevant facts, the Court began its analysis by determining who was entitled to what copyright interests in “Smart” under the renewal provisions of the Copyright Act: "(1) Based on their assigned interest in the initial copyright, Plaintiffs had the right to sue for infringing acts occurring up through December 31, 2002, see 17 U.S.C. § 501(b) ..., and they had three years after that date to bring a cause of action. ... (2) Because Tilmon died prior to the renewal term, Tilmon’s contingency interest in the renewal copyright passed to Tilmon-Jones and Tilmon’s children, on January 1, 2003."
Next, the Court considered whether the widow, as a non-party to the litigation in which the judgments were entered, had standing. The Court determined she did not have standing to bring a Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion. Rule 60(b) provides in pertinent part that a “court may relieve a party or its legal representative” from a final judgment. Nor was the widow in privity, or were here interests "strongly affected."
The Court also found that the widow's motion to vacate the judgments was untimely under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1), which requires such motion be made within a reasonable period of time. She did not file the motions until 6 years after constructive notice of the judgments (due to recordation of the judgments with the Copyright Office), and 7 years after they were entered. The motions also were barred by a release the widow signed in another action.
Lastly, the Sixth Circuit sanctioned the widow and her counsel, pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 38 and 28 U.S.C. § 1912. "The conduct of Tilmon-Jones and her counsel was objectively and patently meritless and a waste of judicial resources. Tilmon-Jones maintains that her appeal is not frivolous because the question of whether a nonparty has standing under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) was not obviously without merit. This may be true, but it does not obviate the fact that her appeal was utterly without merit because it was untimely and barred by a release. We find that this appeal is frivolous and that sanctions are appropriate."