December 24, 2014

"Whomp! (There It Is)" $2 Million Jury Award Affirmed

In re: Isbell Records, Inc. (Isbell v. DM Records), No. 13-40878 (5th Cir. Dec. 18, 2014).

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a finding that plaintiff owned the copyright in the composition of the song "Whomp! (There It Is)", that defendant was liable for infringement based on its exploitation of the song for year, and the jury's award of over $2 million in damages.  The primary issue was whether a 50% interest in the song had originally been assigned to the plaintiff or the defendant's predecessor-in-interest (the other 50% remained with the writers/producers of the song).  The 5th Circuit held that California contract interpretation law applied, and that the lower court correctly found that the contract granted the 50% interest in the song to the plaintiff.

On appeal of defendant's trial motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 for judgment as a matter of law, the defendant raised two issues regarding the district court's interpretation of the recording agreement as assigning a single 50% interest to plaintiff.  First, the Court rejected defendant's argument that the lower court erred in interpreting the agreement without asking the jury to make any findings on extrinsic evidence.  Second, the Court rejected defendant's argument that the agreement also assigned a second 50% interest in the composition copyright because the argument had not previously pursued that theory and had disclaimed the theory at an earlier hearing.  In short, the defendant could not raise its "two assignments theory" after not previously asserting it at trial or in its earlier Rule 50 motion.

On appeal of defendant's motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) for relief from judgment based on fraud and lack of standing, the Court rejected defendant's argument that it was prevented from presenting the defense of plaintiff's lack of standing.  Even if the plaintiff had improperly withheld a certain document, it would not have affected plaintiff's standing and thus would not have affected defendant's defense.

With respect to the jury's damage award of over $2 million, the Court rejected defendant's argument that plaintiff should have only been awarded 1/2 of that amount as 50% owner of the copyright.  First, defendant did not object to the jury charge during trial.  And under the plain-error standard of review, the district court did not err.  Notably, the 5th Circuit found that Edward B. Marks Music Corp. v. Jerry Vogel Music Co., 140 F.2d 268 (2d Cir. 1944), was inapplicable to the issue of first impression whether a partial owner of a copyright can ever be awarded infringement damages for his co-owner's share.  Specifically, the jury could have found that plaintiff was entitled to 100% of the royalties in the first instance as administrator/publisher of the song.  In other words, because plaintiff was obligated to account to the other 50% owners (the producers/writers), plaintiff could recover 100% damages and any issue as to distributions would be a separate case between the co-owners not involving the defendant.

Lastly, in affirming denial of defendant's Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 motion for a new trial, the Court found that plaintiff's closing statement -- referring to defendant as a "thief -- was not abusive and improper.  Defendant did not object to the closing statement at trial and thus the standard of review was plain error.  Evidence was presented at trial form which the jury could find that defendant's conduct was willful and that defendant stole the copyrights from plaintiff.  Further, any prejudice was minimized by the judge's instructions and the statements concerned damages rather than liability.  Further, plaintiff ultimateley elected actual damages which were higher than statutory damages, and willfulness is not an element of actual damages calculation.

Copyright Royalty Board Royalty Rates For Performance Of Sound Recordings Affirmed

Music Choice v. Copyright Royalty Board, No. 13-1174/13-1183 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 19, 2014).

In 2013, the Judges of the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) issued a determination setting royalty rates and defining terms for statutorily defined satellite digital audio radio services and preexisting subscription services.  SoundExchange, which collects and distributes royalties, argued that the CRB arbitrarily set rates too low and that the CRB erred in defining "Gross Revenue" and eligible deductions.  Music Choice, which provides music-only television channels, also appealed arguing that the Judges set the rates too high.

The Court of Appeals held that the CRB acted within its broad discretion to set rates for compulsory licenses of the digital performance of sound recordings, and therefore affirmed the determination of royalty rates.  The appellate court found that the CRB did not exercise its broad discretion in an arbitrary or capricious manner when setting royalty rates for satellite digital audio radio services and preexisting subscription services.

For satellite digital audio radio services, the rate was set at 11%; in order to avoid disruption, the CRB adopted a staggered schedule beginning at 9% in 2013 and increasing by 0.5% annually until achievement of 11% in 2017.

For preexisting subscription services, the rate was set at 8.5% with an upward adjustment for Music Choice's planned channel expansion.  The rate would start at 8% in 2013 and increase to 8.5% for 2014 through 2017.

December 16, 2014

Tejano Music Infringement Claim Fails Because No Access And Not Enough Similarity

Guzman v. Hacienda Records & Recording Studio, Inc., No. 6:12-CV-42, 2014 BL 344493 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 09, 2014).

After a bench trial, the Court dismissed plaintiff's copyright infringement claim because the alleged infringers did not have access to plaintiff's work nor were the two works strikingly similar.  This case is about two Tejano songs -- a hugely popular style of music in Corpus Christi from the 1970s through the 1990s, that is a a fusion of the Mexican and German influences in Texas. Although the Court found that substantial similarity existed between the songs, the Court declined to find the much higher standard of striking similarity, which is necessary for a finding of factual copying without any proof of access.  The Court also found that the evidence did not support a finding that defendants had access to plaintiff's song. The Court concluded that it was purely speculative that anyone associated with defendant heard plaintiff's song on the radio on the occasions when it was actually played, or ever heard it performed live.  "Because [plaintiff] has not shown a reasonable possibility that Defendants had access to his song, he cannot show that they copied it and his copyright infringement claim fails".

December 10, 2014

Sampling Case Against Jay-Z Dismissed Because No Substantial Similarity

Tufamerica Inc. v. WB Music Corp. et al., No. 1:13-cv-07874-LAK (SDNY filed 12/08/14) [Doc. 19].

The Court dismissed a claim against Jay-Z that was based on the sampling and use of the word “oh” in an audio recording and music video entitled Run This Town.  Plaintiff’s works were a composition and a pre-1972 sound recording thereof in each of which the word “oh” appears once.  The Court held that, even assuming that defendants copied, or “sampled,” a portion of plaintiff’s works, plaintiff had not stated a plausible claim because there was no substantial similarity.

According to the Court, "Run This Town bears very little and perhaps no similarity at all to [Plaintiff's song]. The melody and lyrics are entirely different. The lyrics do not contain the word 'oh'. And while the Court assumes, as plaintiff contends, that the alleged 'sample' of that word appears in the accused recording and video 42 separate times, it must be said also that it does so, if at all, only in the background and in such a way as to be audible and aurally intelligible only to the most attentive and capable listener."

The Court observed, in dicta, that plaintiff's usage of the word "oh" in the composition likely was not subject to copyright protection, though it may have been in the sound recording.  However, the Court found other grounds to dismiss and therefore assumed "oh" was protectable.  Specifically, the Court found there was no substantial similarity.

First, the "oh" was not quantitatively significant in either the composition or sound recording thereof. Second, the court found that the qualitative significance of "oh" in plaintiff's work was insufficient.  "Oh" was not the heart of the composition, having appeared only once and being a common word.  As to the recording, "oh" only appeared at the beginning, and was a replaceable term; indeed, "oh" could have been removed completely without significantly changing the essence of the recording.  That Jay-Z used the "oh" more than 40 times did not change the analysis, because what is relevant is the qualitative and quantitative significance of the copied portion in relation to the plaintiff’s work as a whole (not the significance to the defendant's work).

December 5, 2014

Motion For Judgment As Matter Of Law, Or For New Trial, Denied In Beastie Boys/Monster Case

Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy, 1:12-cv-06065-PAE (SDNY filed 12/04/14) [Doc. 181].

After a jury awarded plaintiff Beastie Boys a verdict on their copyright and trademark claims, defendant Monster moved for a judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50.  As to the Copyright Act claim, Monster argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding of willful infringement on which the award of enhanced statutory damages was based.  As to the Lanham Act claim, Monster argued that the evidence was insufficient to support either a finding of a false endorsement or that
Monster acted with intentional deception.  Monster alternatively moved for a new trial under
Rule 59 or for a reduction in damages.   The court denied Monster’s motions.

Court My Reconsider Pre-1972 Sound Recording Decision In Turtles/Sirius Case

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, 1:13-cv-05784-CM (SDNY filed 12/03/14) [Doc. 103].

As previously reported, a New York federal court recently found that Flo & Eddie (the Turtles) have state common law claims against Sirius XM concerning the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings.  However, defendant Sirius XM, by new counsel, subsequently brought to the Court's attention a previously un-cited decades old 2nd Circuit decision, RCA Mfg. Co. v. Whiteman, 114 F.2d 86, 87-88 (2d Cir. 1940), which held that no common law public performance right existed in sound recordings.  "Whiteman plainly should have been addressed the first time around, and it must be dealt with now- it is, after all, a Second Circuit decision (albeit a pre-Naxos decision) discussing key issues in this case."  Accordingly, the court entered a scheduling order for plaintiff to respond and discuss the case

December 1, 2014

Claims In 'Sugarman' Case Survive Dismissal; Rights Transferred To Defunct Publisher's Shareholder By Operation Of Law

Gomba Music, Inc. v. Avant, No. 14-cv-11767, 2014 BL 330905 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 24, 2014).

The Court dismissed a corporate music publisher's case in the Sugarman / Sixto Rodriguez case because the company had been administratively dissolved by the State of Michigan in 1971 for failure to file certain papers, but the claims by the company's sole shareholder survived because when the company dissolved, any interests it held were transferred to him by operation of law.  The Court found that whether under the 1976 or 1909 Copyright Acts, by operation of law [Mich. Comp. Laws § 450.1855a], any rights that the company had in the compositions transferred to its sole shareholder when the corporation dissolved.  The Court also found that the decision to sue in the company's name was due to a mistaken belief that the entity would be reinstated and that it was necessary to sue in the company's name because it was the original assignee of rights; accordingly, the Court allowed substitution of the shareholder for the defunct company he formerly owned as sole proprietor, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 17.

Thereafter, the Court addressed the sufficiency of the causes of action.  First, the Court held that the plaintiff could assert fraud on the copyright office as a declaratory judgment action to attack the prima facie validity of defendants' copyrights in the compositions.  Second, the Court held that the plaintiff could assert a declaratory judgment claim that he is the exclusive owner of the copyright in the compositions because it was plausible that plaintiff was not placed on notice of his claims until sometime after the release of the film Waiting for Sugar Man in July 2012 and therefore plausible that he timely filed his claim for declaratory judgment in May 2014.  Third, the Court held that plaintiff could assert fraudulent concealment claims, and that the claims were not time-barred, because the name of the artist with whom plaintiff had an exclusive agreement (Sixto Rodriguez) was completely absent from the album credits, there were affirmative statement that others wrote the works, the plaintiff had limited motivation to investigate further given the "commercial failure" of the  album at the time it was released, the artist Sixto Rodriguez was under an exclusive contract with the publisher plaintiff, and, later, copyright registrations were issued based on representations that others wrote the works.  Lastly, the Court found that the copyright infringement claim also was not time-barred, and though the plaintiff may be precluded from certain statutory damages/attorneys' fees based on the timing of his attempted registration, that did not bar the claims.

November 30, 2014

Covenant Not To Sue Upheld In Run-DMC Co-Author's Case Against Publisher Assignee For Royalties

Reach Music Publishing, Inc. v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., No. 09-cv-5580, 2014 BL 317978 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 2014).

A Run-D.M.C. co-author's claim for breach of contract failed because that co-author "long ago sold all rights to the subject songs -- including his entire copyright interest -- in exchange for royalty payments," and in that agreement, he plainly acknowledged that the songs could be transferred to another publisher (Protoons) and that "he would only ever seek royalty payments from" the original publisher (Rush Grooves).  The Court found that the covenant not to sue Protoons was enforceable and was not unconscionable under New York law.  Therefore, the co-author breached the contract when he filed suit in 2008, and the defendant's damages were their resulting attorney's fees pursuant to the express attorney's fees provision in the contract.  Defendant also counterclaimed that the plaintiff (another publisher, Reach, to whom the co-author had purportedly transferred his interest), tortiously induced the co-author to breach the covenant not to sue.  The Court found that there was a question of material fact whether Reach had knowledge of the covenant not to sue, preventing either party from winning summary judgment on the tortious interference claim.  "Even though knowledge of the contract need not be perfect, Reach must have knowledge of the covenant not to sue in order to be liable for helping Reeves violate that particular contractual provision."

New York Common Law Protects Public Performance of Pre-1972 Sound Recordings; NY Federal Court Joins California Federal Court

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-05784 (S.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 14, 2014) [Doc. 88].

Joining a California federal court in a parallel case, a New York federal court found that Flo & Eddie (the Turtles) have state common law claims against Sirius XM concerning the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings.  "In short, general principles of common law copyright dictate that public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings do exist.  New York has always protected public performance rights in works other than sound recordings that enjoy the protection of common law copyright.  Sirius suggests no reason why New York -- a state traditionally protective of performers and performance rights -- would treat sound recordings differently."

First, the court found that plaintiff holds valid common law copyrights in the Turtles' sound recordings.  "The Turtles originally acquired a common law copyright in their sound recordings by expending time, effort, money and skill to create them.  That copyright was then transferred...eventually to Flo and Eddie, which now owns the sound recordings."

Second, the Court found that Flo and Eddie's common law copyright provides exclusive rights to reproduce and publicly perform Turtles recordings.  As to the absence of prior litigation on the matter, "acquiescence by participants in the recording industry in a status quo where recording artists and producers were not paid royalties while songwriters were does not show that they lacked an enforceable right under the common law -- only that they failed to act on it."  The court did not read too much into the fact that New York courts have never squarely addressed this particular feature of state copyright law in the context of sound recordings.

Third, the Court found that Sirius infringed plaintiff's common law copyright and engaged in unfair competition (misappropriation).  In reproducing Turtles recordings, Sirius acted without authorization.  Further, to the extent that distribution is an element of common law copyright, the Court found that publicly performing sound recordings is an act of distribution.

Moreover, even though the Court found that there is a common law fair use defense parallel to the federal fair use defense, Sirius XMs creation of multiple complete copies of the sound recordings could not be considered a fair use.  "It is a matter of economic commons sense that Sirius harms Flo and Eddie's sales and potential licensing fees (even if the latter market is not yet extant) by publicly performing Turtles sound recordings."

Lastly, the Court rejected Sirius XM's argument that plaintiff's claims are barred by the constitutional Dormant Commerce Clause, which provides that states may not interfere with interstate commerce.  U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 8.  The court found that the argument is a "red herring" because New York does not "regulate" anything by recognizing common law copyright.  Sirius objects to a "general principle respecting the liability of all persons within the jurisdiction of" New York, which under the 1876 (yes, 1876) Supreme Court decision Sherlock v. Alling, 93 U.S. 99,  is not a state-imposed regulation that might affect interstate commerce.

No Interlocutory Appeal Of Pre-72 Sound Recording Liability Holding In Turtles v Sirius Case

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., No. 13-cv-5693 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 20, 2014).

The District Court denied Sirius XM's motion to certify for interlocutory appeal the Court's earlier order granting partial summary judgment.  The earlier order granted plaintiff summary judgment to the extent that its claims were premised on Sirius XM's public performance of plaintiff's pre-1972 sound recordings, ruling that owners of sound recordings have the exclusive right to publicly perform their recordings under California Civil Code 980(a)(2).  28 USC 1292(b) provides a means for litigants to bring an immediate appeal of a non-final order with the consent of both the federal district court and the federal court of appeals.  The district court denied the motion because, "[a]t this stage in the litigation and under the operative scheduling order governing the case, certification of the Order for immediate appeal would delay rather than materially advance the termination of the litigation".  Continuing, the district court observed that the case is moving swiftly toward trial and a final resolution that will be appealable to the Ninth Circuit in the customary manner.  While interpretation of Cal. Civ. Code 980(a)(2) is an issue of controlling law, an immediate appeal would not speed up the resolution of the case.

11th Cir. Finds Summary Judgment Properly Granted In Favor of BMI And Against Tavern; Adopts 2nd Cir. Davis v. Blige

BMI v. Evie's Tavern Ellenton, Inc., No. 13-15871, 2014 BL 329074 (11th Cir. Nov. 21, 2014).

The 11th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the performing rights society BMI, rejecting the defendant-tavern's argument that there were questions of material fact as to the copyright ownership of the musical compositions at issue and as to whether defendants were innocent infringers.  With respect to the chain-of-title for the five songs at issue, the court examined each chain of title, and further found that the district court properly found that BMI could be awarded judgment on each song in addition to the copyright holder (generally, the music publisher who owned the copyright).  As BMI agreed to be responsible for all costs and expenses pursuing infringement actions based on the titles that BMI licenses from copyright owners, the number of them to whom summary judgment is granted made no difference in the award of damages, attorneys' fees and costs.  Thus, there was no error in granting summary judgment to the other plaintiffs (the copyright owners) under Fed. R. Civ. P. 61.

As to innocent infringement, the Court affirmed that is not a defense to summary judgment liability, and instead is only a consideration as to the amount of statutory damages to award.  The court also found that an award of attorney's fees was appropriate.  Notably, the 11th Circuit joined the rule adopted by the Second Circuit in Davis v. Blige, 505 F.3d 90, 99 (2d Cir. 2007) that a copyright co-owner may maintain and recover in a copyright infringement action without joining other co-owners.  See fn. 2.

November 6, 2014

Hard Rock's CAVERN CLUB Trademark Not Subject To Cancellation

Cavern City Tours Ltd. v. Hard Rock Cafe Int'l (USA), Inc., No. 6:12-cv-1410 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 31, 2014).

The Court held that the TTAB properly dismissed the the petition of plaintiff, who owns the mark THE CAVERN CLUB in the UK and other jurisdictions, to cancel Hard Rock Cafe's CAVERN CLUB mark in the USA.  "The Cavern Club" was a venue where the Beatles performed hundreds of times early in their career.

First, the Court found that Hard Rock did not knowingly make false statements in their application for the CAVERN CLUB mark concerning the use of the mark by other people (like plaintiff), and rejected plaintiff's argument to adopt a "willful blindness" standard.  The Court found that plaintiff failed to submit sufficient evidence to prove that Hard Rock was aware of Plaintiff's mark; further, even if Hard Rock did have knowledge of plaintiff's use of the mark, the Court found that Hard Rock had reasonable basis to believe that plaintiff did not have a superior right to use the mark in commerce.

Second, the Court found that Hard Rock's mark did not falsely suggest a connection with plaintiff in violation of section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.  "The mere fact that Plaintiff's name has a word in common with the CAVERN CLUB does not establish that Plaintiff's identity or persona is the CAVERN CLUB."  Similarly, plaintiff's lease and operation of a "new" Cavern Club venue did not establish that Plaintiff's persona or identity is the CAVERN CLUB.  Moreover, Plaintiff did not establish that the CAVERN CLUB mark points uniquely and unmistakably to Plaintiff.  To the contrary, the evidence links the CAVERN CLUB with the original venue, which was demolished in 1973; thus, it did not point uniquely to Plaintiff.  Accordingly, Hard Rock was granted summary judgment dismissing the case.

November 4, 2014

Super Bowl Shuffle Case Belongs In Federal Court; Remand Denied

Den v. Renaissance Marketing Corp., No. 14-cv-2999, 2014 BL 303007 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 28, 2014).

In case concerning defendants' alleged use of the "Super Bowl Shuffle" without plaintiff' authorization, a federal court in Illinois held that the case should remain in federal court as preempted by the federal Copyright Act.  Accordingly, plaintiffs' motion to remand to state court was denied.

The Super Bowl Shuffle is a song and music video trumpeting the success of the 1985 Chicago Bears.  Plaintiffs initially brought a case in Illinois state court alleging that defendants were not assignees of the record label's interest and therefore defendants were improperly benefiting from the marketing, distribution and licensing of the song without authorization.  Defendants removed the case to federal court, claiming that the state-law claims (for constructive trust, injunctive relief, conversion, unjust enrichment, and accounting) were preempted by the Copyright Act.  Plaintiffs moved to remand to state court.

The Court held that removal of the case to federal court, under 28 USC 1441, was proper.  The Court found that the Copyright Act preempted the state law causes of action for conversion, declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.  17 USC 301.  Plaintiffs were not just seeking to enforce the royalty agreement with the label, as defendants allegedly were improper assignees of the contract.  The rights seeking plaintiff sought to enforce were really copyright claims, protecting plaintiffs "against the world."  Other claims -- for constructive trust, unjust enrichment, and an accounting -- were not preempted, but the Court retained supplemental jurisdiction.

October 27, 2014

Publisher Not Double Dipping Foreign Royalties Under Terms Of 1961 Agreement With Duke Ellington

Ellington v. EMI Music et al., 2014 NY Slip Op 07197, NYLJ 1202674400667 (N.Y. Court of Appeals Oct. 23, 2014).

New York's highest court affirmed dismissal of a breach of contract claim brought by Duke Ellington's heir, against Ellington's publisher (EMI), seeking unpaid royalties under a 1961 agreement.  The majority of the Court of Appeals held that, under the contract's clear and unambiguous terms, Ellington was entitled to 50% "net receipts" from foreign publishers, even if those foreign publishers were now-affiliated with the US publisher.

Plaintiff had claimed that by using affiliated foreign subpublishers, EMI was double-dipping into the entire pot of revenue generated from the foreign sale of the relevant musical compositions.  Essentially, plaintiff claimed that the amount retained by the affiliated foreign subpublishers prior to remittal of the remainder to EMI was an amount received by EMI, and therefore, when using affiliated foreign subpublishers, EMI should remit to the First Parties half of the entire amount generated from the foreign sale of the relevant musical compositions.  The trial court disagreed and dismissed the complaint; the appellate division affirmed; and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

First, as to "net revenue actually received," the Court of Appeals found that the royalty provision makes no distinction between affiliated and unaffiliated foreign subpublishers.  Therefore,  the courts below properly declined to read such a distinction into the contract as it does not appear to have been the intent of the parties that such a distinction be included, primarily because they were understandably unaware that such a change in the industry would occur.

Second, as to "any other affiliate," the Court of Appeals found that "[a]bsent explicit language demonstrating the parties' intent to bind future affiliates of the contracting parties, the term 'affiliate' includes only those affiliates in existence at the time that the contract was executed."  In other words, the publisher was not double dipping because its later-foreign-affiliates were not "affiliates" of the publisher under the contract.

There were two dissents.  In sum, the dissents found it "wrong... that, when a contract is written to bind 'any . . . affiliate' of a party, its effect should be limited to affiliates in existence at the time of contracting."  In other words, the dissent would have held that the term "affiliate" as used in the Agreement may be interpreted as appellant suggests to include EMI's foreign affiliated entities.

October 21, 2014

License Agreements Preclude Copyright Infringement Claim; 6th Circuit

Murphy v. Lazarev, No. 14-5028 (6th Cir. Oct. 17, 2014) [File Name: 14a0790n.06]

The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of copyright infringement and breach of contract claims by two American co-authors of a song, Almost Sorry, against a Russian pop artist because there were numerous licensing agreements that granted defendant sweeping permission to record and perform the song.  First, the Court held that the defendant did not waive his affirmative defense of "license," even though defendant did not file an answer to the amended complaint, because the plaintiffs were on notice of his affirmative defenses from an early stage in the lawsuit (when defendant filed a pro se letter in response to the complaint), thus satisfying the purposes of Rule 8.  Second, the Court held that defendant had a valid express sub-license to record the song until 2013.

October 17, 2014

Wyclef Escapes Infringement Claim Because "Actual Sounds" Not Copied

Pryor v. Jean, No. CV 13-02867, 2014 BL 283332 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 08, 2014) [Doc. 36].

Plaintiff, who claimed that his 1970's song "Bumpin' Bus Stop" was infringed by the defendants use of a sample in the Wyclef Jean song "Step Up" recorded in 2006, had his copyright infringement case dismissed.  The issue was that Plaintiff's song had appeared on two albums.  The song first appeared on a recording referred to as the "Gold Future" record.  Later, the Gold Future record was remastered, shortened in duration, and Plaintiff's band name was changed.  The latter record was referred to as the "Private Stock" record.  Years later, Defendants licensed the song from the Private Stock record.

The existence of two separate sound recordings (the Gold Future record and the Private Stock remaster) was important, as the substantive allegations at issue referred only to copyright to the Gold Future record, and not to the "Bumpin' Bus Stop" musical composition featured in both the Gold Future record and the Private Stock record.  The Court found: "Under 17 U.S.C. § 114(b), Plaintiffs have the exclusive right to duplicate, rearrange, or remix the 'actual sounds' of the Gold Future record. Defendants did not do anything with those 'actual sounds.'  Rather, Defendants used licensed 'actual sounds' from the Private Stock record.  Because the TAC's First and Second claims for relief are premised solely upon infringement of the Gold Future sound recording copyright, those claims are DISMISSED, with prejudice."

October 16, 2014

Former Band Member Enjoined From Using "Commodores" Mark For His New Band

Commodores Entertainment Corp. v. Thomas McClary, 6:14-cv-1335 (M.D. Fla. dated Oct. 9, 2014).

The Court granted the band "The Commodores" a preliminary injunction enjoining one of its founding members from performing under the name “The Commodores featuring Thomas McClary” or “The 2014 Commodores.”

First, the Court found that Plaintiff has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on its trademark infringement claim.  Defendant had left the band in 1984.  "When members of a band dispute ownership of a mark associated with the band, courts have found that members who remain active and associated with the band have better title to the mark than those who do not."  Continuing, "Defendant no longer has a valid claim to ownership over the Marks. Rather, the band members who remained after Defendant left in 1984 have prevailing ownership because they maintained continuity with the group and have been in a position to control the quality of services of the Marks associated with the band name. Defendant has not put forward any evidence to suggest that he maintained quality or control over the Marks associated with The Commodores after he left; rather, it was the other original band members who stayed with the group that continued to control the nature and quality of the Marks, went on to win a Grammy, and further expanded the band’s fan base and recognition."  (Internal cit. om.).

The Court also found that there is a likelihood that consumers would confuse the Grammy award winning band, ‘the Commodores,’ with the ‘The Commodores featuring Thomas McClary’ and/or ‘The 2014 Commodores'.  Due to the trademark infringement, there was a presumption of irreparable harm, and the Court found the balance of equities in plaintiff's favor.

SESAC Antitrust Settlement Submitted For Approval In Class Action

Meredith Corp. et al. v. SESAC, 1:09-cv-09177-PAE (S.D.N.Y. filed 10/15/14) [Doc. 174].

Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for approval of the parties' settlement of the class action antitrust claims.  In their motion, Plaintiffs summarize the first prong of the settlement as: "under the contemplated settlement, SESAC will be bound through 2035 by some of the same core conduct restrictions that constrain the anti-competitive potential, at least as it relates to their dealings with local stations, of the other two U.S. performance rights organizations ('PROs'), ASCAP and BMI, in their consent decrees with the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice."  Notably, rather than a "rate court", the settlement provides that disputes should be submitted for binding arbitration.

Plaintiffs further summarize the second prong of the settlement as follows: "the proposed settlement will provide significant monetary relief to local stations.  SESAC has agreed to pay $58.5 million into a settlement fund. Those monies will be used to reimburse local stations for the claimed inflated license fees they have paid since 2008 as a result of the alleged anti-competitive conduct that was the subject of this lawsuit."  In addition, the monies will be used to reimburse for legal fees and costs.

October 11, 2014

Punitive Damages Verdict Significantly Reduced; Defendant Granted Judgment Notwithstanding Verdict On Cover Art And DMCA "Red Flag" Theories

Capitol Records, Inc. v. MP3Tunes, No. 07-cv-9931 (S.D.N.Y. filed Sep. 29, 2014) [Doc. 629].

Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively a new trial, and for remittur following a $48,061,073 jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs, who consisted of record labels and publishers who had filed copyright and unfair competition claims alleging that defendant and MP3Tunes made infringing copies of copyright songs and cover art.  The motion was denied in part, and granted in part.  Specifically, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law was granted as to plaintiffs' claims of (1) public display rights in cover art, and (2) copyright infringement under "red flag" knowledge and willful blindness theories (except for certain works sideloaded and which the source domain's URL was obviously infringing and viewed by a company executive).  Further, defendant's motion for a new trial on punitive damages was granted unless plaintiffs elected to remit the jury's punitive damage award to $750,000.

Grooveshark And Its Officers Liable For Copyright Infringment Based On Direct Uploads By Officers And Employees

UMG Recording, Inc. v. Escape Media Group, Inc. No. 1:11-cv-08407-TPG (S.D.N.Y. filed Sep. 29, 2014) [Doc. 100].

This case involved "Grooveshark" and the direct upload of plaintiffs' copyright music by defendant's officers and employees.  The Court granted plaintifss' motion for spoliation sanctions, and granted plaintiffs' summary judgment on nearly all of their claims.  As to spoliation sanctions, the Court found that defendants acted with a culpable state of mind when they deleted user upload information and relevant source code.  Based on the spoliation, the Court found that an individual defendant directly infringed plaintiffs' copyright recordings; however, the Court did not agree with plaintiffs' request that it find 10,000 instances of infringement and instead found that plaintiffs were entitled to judgment as a matter of law that that defendant illegally uploaded a small percentage (144) of the recordings.  Similarly, the Court found that the other employees uploaded a much smaller percentage  of additional files than requested by plaintiffs.

Turning to the summary judgment motion, the court first found that a certain expert report was admissible.  The Court then addressed defendants' affirmative defenses, and held that the claims were not barred by the statute of limitations, and that defendants' could not set forth a claim for equitable estoppel (or laches or waiver).  On plaintiffs' copyright claims, the Court found that plaintiffs established that defendants illegally uploaded 5,977 sound recordings (plaintiffs had requested a much higher number).  Accordingly, defendants were directly liable for infringement of plaintiffs' distribution, reproduction and public performance rights.  Further, Escape was liable for vicarious and inducement infringement because it had the ability to control its employee's infringing activity and instructed its employees to upload as many files as possible to Grooveshark as a condition of their employment.  Escape also materially contributed to the infringing employee uploads, and the Court granted plaintiffs summary judgment on their claim for contributory infringement.  The corporate officers were also liable., jointly and severally with the company.

Apple Succeeds In Having Certain Audio Distribution Patents Deemed Unpatentable As Obvious

Apple Inc. v. Sightsound Technologies, LLC, Related Case Nos. CMB2013-00023 and CMB2013-00020 (PTAB Oct. 7, 2014) [Papers 101 and 105, respectively].

Apple succeeded in having the PTAB hold that certain claims in patents relating to a "system and associated method for the electronic sales and distribution of digital audio or video signals" are unpatentable.  The PTAB concluded that certain claims would have been obvious based on existing publications by non-parties, pursuant to 35 USC 103(a).  However, Apple did not succeed in establishing that the claims were anticipated under 35 USC 102(a).

Beatles Rights Holders Did Not Interfere With Film's Release By Asserting Copyright Claims

Ace Arts, LLC v. Sony/ATV Music Publishing, No. 13-cv-7307-AJN (S.D.N.Y. filed Sep. 26, 2014).

This action arises from the use of eight Beatles songs in a documentary film, "The Lost Concert."  Plaintiff alleges that defendants (publisher and record label) interfered with the US distribution of the film by asserting copyright claims regarding those songs.  According to the allegations in the complaint and certain judicially noticeable documents (e.g., copyright registrations), the Beatles first performance in the US took place in 1964, twelve songs were played, and defendant had copyright registrations for 8 of the songs.  The concert was preserved on a certain video tape.  In 2009, a production company acquired the video tape and produced The Lost Concert film, which consists of the concert footage and other sequences and interviews.  Plaintiff was granted distribution rights by the producers.  In 2009, the producers approached Sony ATV for a synch license.  Plaintiff's allege that at Apple's request, Sony refused to grant the producers a synch license, and instead Sony granted Apple an exclusive synch license for Apple's distribution of certain Beatles material on iTunes.  Nonetheless, the producers and distributor believed that there was no legal obstacle to distributing the film and arranged for a premier and distribution in the USA and UK.  Sony ATV sought an injunction against the producers in the UK alleging that the film would infringe Sony's copyrights.  The US premier was then cancelled after Sony ATV made a claim to the distributor's partner.  Eventually, the plaintiff commenced the action seeking a declaration, inter alia, that neither Sony ATV nor Apple has rights that would be infringed by exploitation of the film in the USA, and that Sony ATV "misused its copyrights."

First the Court denied the defendants' request to stay the US federal action pending resolution of the UK action.  The Court found no exceptional circumstances to justify abstention.

Second, the Court found that the controversy was ripe for a declaratory judgment claim.

Third, the Court analyzed plaintiff's anti-trust claim under Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  The Court found that, as alleged, the agreements between Sony ATV and Apple -- in particular their efforts to enforce Apple's exclusive synch license by preventing the US distribution of the film -- did not constitute horizontal restraints on trade that are a per se violation of the Sherman Act.  Nor was there an anti-trust violation under the "rule of reason" because the allegations concerned a routine dispute between business competitors that is not cognizable under the Sherman Act.

Fourth, the Court considered the tortious interference with contract and economic relations claims, which was based on the allegation that Sony ATV and Applied conspired to interfere with the distribution contract by stating that the film infringed on Sony ATV's copyrights.  The Court found that plaintiff failed to adequately plead breach of the contract because it was possible that the distribution contract was lawfully terminated.  The complaint did not identify which section of the contract was breached, "a particularly damaging omission in light of the provisions in the contract suggesting that [the distribution partner] had the right to suspend working on, distributing or exhibiting all or any portion of the film for which the partner received a demand or claim.  Further, plaintiff failed to allege the use of "wrongful means."  Sony ATV steadfastly  maintained that it owns the rights to the song, and it did not assert copyright claims in bad faith.  The bare legal conclusions of malice were insufficient.

Fifth, the Court considered plaintiff's unfair competition claim under New York common law.  The Court rejected an extension of the common law claim (which has two theories: for palming off and misappropriation) to include "commercial immorality."

Finally, the Court considered Plaintiff's claim under NY GBL sec. 349.  The Court found that defendants' alleged conduct was not consumer-oriented.  It was not a standard-issue consumer oriented transaction that section 349 was designed to protect.

Toto Loses Breach Of Contract Claim Against Label For Digital Download Royalties

Toto, Inc. v. Sony Music Entertainment, No. 1:12-cv-01434-RJS (S.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 8, 2014) [Doc. 117].

In this breach of contract action concerning royalties for digital downloads (and master and ringtones) payable by the record label to the 80's band "Toto", the Court granted the record label summary judgment finding that the proper royalty rate had been paid.  The Court applied New York law to interpret the relevant recording agreements, and found that one provision (the "Audiophile Provision" in 1986 and 2002 amendments) supplied the applicable royalty rate for the sale of downloads through digital retailers, regardless of whether the downloads were sold by the record company or unaffiliated third-party licensees.  The dispute turned on the meaning of the terms "Licensee" and "lease", which had different royalty rates.  Toto argued the term "lease" referred to a license to any party, regardless of whether that party is affiliated with the record company; the record company argued that the term "lease" referred to a special license whereby a third party incorporates the recordings into its own product, such as a compilation record.  The Court found that the inclusion of the record company's affiliates in the contractual definition of "licensee" did not limit the scope of that term; the definition included the term "without limitation".  Accordingly, digital retailers were licensees, and industry custom defined the term "lease" as a limited license to a third party to incorporate recording into their own unique product.  However, the Court found that the record company did not have a declaratory judgment claim because the dispute was "far more hypothetical than real."  The declaratory judgment dispute arose from Toto's threat to sue the label for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing if the label ceased distributing Toto's records through certain retailers.

September 23, 2014

California Law Protects Public Performance Right In Pre-1972 Sound Recordings; Turtles Granted Summary Judgment Against Sirius

Flo & Eddie Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio Inc., et al., No. 2:13-cv-05693-PSG-RZ (C.D. Cal. filed Sep. 22, 2014) (Doc. 117).

Plaintiff, owner of all rights to The Turtles’ master sound recordings (including the hit "Happy Together"), was granted summary judgment against Sirius XM on its causes of action for violation of California
copyright law (California Civil Code § 980(a)(2)), California’s Unfair Competition Law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200, et seq.), and common law misappropriation and conversion, but only so far as the claims were premised on Sirius XM’s public performance of Plaintiff's recordings, not its alleged reproductions for which there were outstanding questions of fact.

Plaintiff argued that Sirius XM was liable for two distinct unauthorized uses of its sound recordings: (1) publicly performing its recordings by broadcasting and streaming the content to end consumers and to secondary delivery and broadcast partners, and (2) reproducing the recordings in the process of operating its satellite and Internet radio services.  Plaintiff contended that, in California, copyright ownership of a pre-1972 sound recording includes the exclusive right to publicly perform the recording; therefore, if anyone wishes to publicly perform such a recording, they must first seek authorization from the recording’s owner.  The Court agreed.

First, the Court found that California statutory and common law governs the rights that attach to pre-1972 sound recordings because the Federal Copyright Act does not apply to those earlier recordings and explicitly allows states to continue to regulate them.  Second, the Court examined the provision of California’s copyright statute that contains a provision directly addressing pre-1972 sound recordings. Cal. Civ. Code § 980(a)(2) ("The author of an original work of authorship consisting of a sound recording initially fixed prior to February 15, 1972, has an exclusive ownership therein until February 15, 2047, as against all persons except one who independently makes or duplicates another sound recording that does not directly or indirectly recapture the actual sounds fixed in such prior recording, but consists entirely of an independent fixation of other sounds, even though such sounds imitate or simulate the sounds contained in the prior sound

The crucial point of statutory interpretation for this case was whether “exclusive ownership” of a sound recording carries within it the exclusive right to publicly perform the recording.  The Court’s textual reading of § 980(a)(2) was that the legislature intended ownership of a sound recording in California to include all rights that can attach to intellectual property, save the singular, expressly-stated exception for making “covers” of a recording.

The Court further found that the rule of statutory construction requiring express statements to alter the common law did not apply because, when the legislature passed § 980(a)(2), there was no common law rule in California rejecting public performance rights in sound recording ownership.  Also, the legislative history of § 980(a)(2) and its comparison to the Federal Copyright Act bolstered the Court’s plain textual reading of the statute that sound recording ownership is inclusive of all ownership rights that can attach to intellectual property, including the right of public performance, excepting only the limited right expressly stated in the law (that the owner does not have the exclusive right to record and duplicate “covers").  Lastly, the Court found further support for its textual reading of the statute as inclusive of the right of public performance from the only two courts that have ruled on or discussed this right under § 980(a)(2).  Accordingly, the Court granted summary judgment on copyright infringement in violation of § 980(a)(2) in favor of Plaintiff.

Borrowing the violation of § 980, the Court found that Sirius also violated California's Unfair Competition Law because Sirius publicly performs Plaintiff's sound recordings without authorization to do so.  Also, the Court found that Sirius XM’s unauthorized performances established conversion damages in the form of license fees that Sirius XM should have paid Plaintiff in order to publicly perform its recordings.  The foregone licensing or royalty payments that Sirius XM should have paid before publicly performing the recordings also constituted misappropriation.

Lastly, the Court found that Sirius could not rely on the doctrine of laches because this was an action at law seeking money damages, and laches is an equitable defense.  Accordingly, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on all causes of action, but only so far as the claims are premised on Sirius XM’s public performance of the recordings, not its alleged reproductions.

September 18, 2014

Taylor Swift Faces Trademark Action Concerning Merchandise

Blue Sphere, Inc. v. Swift, Case No. SACV 14-00782-CJC (C.D. Cal. Sep. 17, 2014).

The Court denied country-star Taylor Swift's motion to dismiss plaintiff's trademark infringement and dilution case.  Defendants contended that Plaintiffs had failed to show a likelihood of confusion.  The Court found that while it is possible that Plaintiffs may not be able to present sufficient evidence to survive a summary judgment motion, they had plausibly alleged facts to survive a motion to dismiss.  Plaintiffs alleged that they own the mark LUCKY 13, and further alleged that the Defendants’ use of the identical LUCKY 13 mark in connection with the sale of t-shirts online and through the online promotion of a “Lucky 13 Sweepstakes” is likely to cause confusion.  The Court also found that Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that the mark is famous so that the dilution claim survived.

September 17, 2014

Tim McGraw Didn't Have Access To Plaintiff's Demo Tape; Summary Judgment Affirmed In Defendants' Favor

Martinez v. McGraw et al., No. 13-5796 (6th Cir. filed Sep. 15, 2014).

The 6th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants in a copyright-infringement action wherein Plaintiff alleged that Defendants infringed his musical composition Anytime, Anywhere
Amanda with the musical composition Everywhere by country-artist Tim McGraw.  On appeal, the 6th Circuit found that the District Court applied the correct standard -- that defendant had an opportunity to access Plaintiff's song -- and that Plaintiff could not meet that standard.  "There is no dispute that Anytime was never published or distributed, never received radio play, is not available on iTunes, has not been performed by third parties, and that Martinez performed the song only in South Texas. Defendants’ only possible access would have been through the demo tape Martinez gave to Tomac."  The record, though, was devoid of any evidence that the demo tape had been passed along.  "Martinez’s theories of access through third-party intermediaries fall short. The district court properly determined that Martinez presented only 'attenuated chains of hypothetical transmittals' in support of his claim that Defendants heard or had a reasonable opportunity to hear Anytime. See Patry on Copyright § 9:29. The chain of access vanishes after Tomac gave the lone demo tape to Bartley in the fall of 1996, and the hypothetical transmittals fail to support
a reasonable inference that any Defendant or associate of any Defendant received a copy of Anytime, much less that Wiseman or Reid, the alleged infringers, heard or had a reasonable opportunity to hear Anytime and copied it before they co-wrote Everywhere in November 1996."  Lastly, there was no error because no evidence was presented that protectible elements of the two works are substantially similar.

August 27, 2014

SoundExchange/Sirius Royalty Dispute Belongs Before Copyright Royalty Board, Not Federal Court

SoundExchange, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-1290 (D.D.C. filed August 26, 2014).

Pursuant to the "primary jurisdiction" doctrine, a federal district court judge stayed a royalties dispute between SoundExchange and Sirius, saying that the dispute belongs before the Copyright Royalty Board.  The parties already had met before the CRB in two prior proceedings, setting royalty rates for the digital broadcast of sound recordings on satellite radio  SoundExchange brought an action in federal court alleging that Sirius underpaid royalties owed from 2007-2012 (the subject of the first CRB proceeding).  The instant dispute centered on the meaning of the term "Gross Revenues" (a percentage of which are the royalties owed SoundExchange), and Sirius's alleged reductions/exclusions therefrom based on pre-72 recordings and Sirius' premiere subscriber package.  The Court agreed with Sirius that the disputes "are best suited to review in the first instance by the CRB. ... [T]he technical and policy expertise of the CRB makes referral to that body appropriate."  Because neither party was asking for a change in the royalty rates, only a clarification, the CRB was found to have continuing jurisdiction.

August 26, 2014

Judge Finds Liability In Shakira Infringement Trial

Mayimba Music, Inc. v. Sony Corp. of Am. et al., No. 1:12-cv-01094-AKH (SDNY filed 08/19/14) [Doc. 104].

This is an infringement action alleging that a Shakira song infringes the copyright in a musical composition.  After a bench trial, the Court found: (a) that plaintiff, as exclusive licensee, had standing; (b) there was no proof of laches; (c) the Shakira song was an unlawful copy of plaintiff's song; and (d) the US distributors were liable for infringement.  The next stage was determining damages, or alternatively a permanent infringement.

Beatles Tribute Band Trademark Registration Denied For Entertainment Services Because Specimen Did Not Show Live Performance

In re Titan Music, Inc., Serial No. 77344197 (TTAB Aug. 20, 2014).

Trademark applicant "Titan," a Beatles cover band, filed an application to register the mark FAB AGAIN for “entertainment in the nature of visual and audio performances, namely, musical band, rock group, gymnastic, dance, and ballet performances” in International Class 41.  Registration was denied, and the TTAB affirmed the denial.

The issue with registration was was the specimens provided by the applicant, which were print-outs from CDBaby and  The TTAB found:
Applicant’s specimens may show use of the mark on or in connection with goods (compact discs featuring music) or services (streaming of audio material via a global computer network); however, the specimens do not show use of the mark in connection with “entertainment in the nature of visual and audio performances, namely, musical band, rock group, gymnastic, dance, and ballet performances.” It is not enough for Applicant to be a provider of services; Applicant also must have used the mark to identify the identified services for which registration is sought.  [Cit. om.] As indicated above, for entertainment services such as those rendered by a musical band, the performance must be live. And while a performance can be recorded, the recording is not itself a performance.
This decision should not be read as finding that the mark FAB AGAIN, as actually used on the specimens, would not be perceived by potential purchasers as a trademark (for compact discs featuring music) or a service mark (for streaming of audio material via a global computer network). The problem is that the specimens of record fail to show use of the mark FAB AGAIN in connection with the services identified in the application, that is, “entertainment in the nature of visual and audio performances, namely, musical band, rock group, gymnastic, dance, and ballet performances.”

August 18, 2014

Suit Against Kanye West Dismissed On "De Minimis" Grounds

Steward v. West, No. CV 13-02449 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 14, 2014).

In this copyright infringement action against Kanye West et al concerning a sample, the Court granted defendants' Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings.  On the motion, the Court considered the sound recordings and held that, while plaintiff's sound recordings were sufficiently original to be protectable, defendants' copying was de minimis.  "The result of these distortions and the short length of the samples is that the average audience would not recognize plaintiffs’ Song in any of Defendants’ songs without actively searching for it. In the Ninth Circuit, digital sampling is de minimis when 'the average audience would not recognize the appropriation.'"  Accordingly, the copyright infringement (and dependent contributory liability claims) were dismissed.

August 14, 2014

Royalties Dispute Between Co-Authors Of Song Not Preempted

McCants v. Tolliver, 2014-Ohio-3478 (Ohio. Ct. App., 9th Dist. Aug. 13, 2014).

An Ohio appellate court held that the trial court erred in dismissing the plaintiff's breach of contract claim as pre-empted by the Copyright Act.  The dispute concerned a royalty-split between co-authors of a song, later licensed to the Blacked Eyed Peas, pursuant to an alleged oral agreement.  Although the dispute did concern a song and recording, there was no "extra element" because "Th[e] alleged promise to split the proceeds is 'qualitatively different' than that of a copyright infringement claim."

McCants does not argue that Tolliver could not reproduce, perform, or distribute the song. See 17 U.S.C. § 106. Instead, McCants argues that he should be compensated according to the alleged agreement between the parties. Because McCants’ claim for breach of contract is qualitatively different than that of a copyright infringement claim, his claim is not preempted by the Copyright Act and the court erred in finding that it was preempted.

August 8, 2014

ASCAP and BMI Both Submit Comments Regarding Consent Decrees

Both ASCAP and BMI submitted public comments concerning the Department of Justice's review of the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees.  ASCAP's comments are here.  BMI's are here.

July 29, 2014

Transmittal Of Publisher's Lawyer's Analysis To ASCAP Did Not Waive Attorney-Client Privlege

Good Morning You Prod. v. Warner/Chappell Music, No. 2:13-cv-04460 (C.D. Cal. filed 07/25/14) (Doc. 132).

The Court concluded that the 1979 transmittal by a music publisher to ASCAP, of letters prepared by the publisher's attorneys, did not waive the attorney-client privilege applicable to those materials.  The letters "speak directly to the validity of the copyrights" in the song Happy Birthday To You.  "The [transmittal] letter is silent as to the specific reason why [the publisher] provided materials from its outside lawyer to the association’s lawyer regarding the validity. However, the only sensible conclusion that the Court can draw – that is, based on the evidence presented, it is more likely than not – is that ASCAP needed or requested this information to properly represent [the publisher] in exploiting its song rights. ASCAP would only have been able to sue an infringer if it could demonstrate that its principal [the publisher] owned a valid copyright"

Attorney's Fees Awarded To Defendants In Black Eyed Peas Alleged Infringement Case

Pringle v. Adams, No. 8:10-cv-01656 (C.D. Cal. filed 07/23/14) (Doc. 326).

The Court awarded over $1 million in attorney's fees and costs to multiple defendants who successfully defeated, both at the trial level and on appeal, a copyright infringement claim concerning the Black Eyed Peas song "I've Gotta Feeling."  The Court did not grant all the fees requested, however.

July 28, 2014

Proposal To Make Illegal Streaming A Felony

Statement of David Bitkower, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, U.S. Dep't of Justice, before the Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, U.S. House of Representatives, for a hearing entitled "Copyright Remedies," presented on July 24, 2014.  [Link].

In a congressional hearing, a Department of Justice officer states that the Department supports a felony penalty for illegal streaming of music.  (See statement, p. 7).  Currently, there are felony penalties for illegal distribution and reproduction (downloads), but only misdemeanor penalties for illegal public performance (streaming).

July 7, 2014

Monopolization Claim Against SESAC Not Subject To Dismissal

Radio Music License Committee, Inc. v. SESAC, Inc. , No. 2:12-cv-5807 (E.D. Pa. June 26, 2014).

Plaintiff sued the public performance rights organization SESAC, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of its member radio stations under §1 and §2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act (15 U.S.C. §§1 & 2) and §16 of the Clayton Act (15 U.S.C. §26).  Plaintiff alleged three counts: horizontal price fixing, group boycott/refusal to deal, and monopolization.  The Court granted SESAC's motion to dismiss the price fixing and refusal to deal claims, but denied the motion as to plaintiff's monopolization claim.  With respect to monopolization, the Court found: "The hallmark of anticompetitive conduct is harm to competition, but the danger of anticompetitive conduct is harm to the consumer.  The most common characteristics of unlawful monopolies are price increases, output decreases, and a deterioration in quality and service, all of which the antitrust laws seek to minimize.  That is precisely what plaintiff has alleged here. SESAC’s anticompetitive conduct has driven up the price of copyright licenses and deteriorated the quality of service insofar as customers only have the option of purchasing a blanket license. The court believes that plaintiff has alleged a plausible claim for which relief can be granted under §2 of the Sherman Act."

June 24, 2014

Judgment Creditor Can Have Receiver Appointed To Sell Copyrights In Master Recordings To Satisfy Debt

Hendricks & Lewis PLLC v. Clinton, No. 13-35010 (9th Cir. June 23, 2014; amended Aug. 27, 2014 [decision]).

The 9th Circuit affirmed an order appointing a receiver and authorizing the sale of copyrights in four master sound recording owned by the musician George Clinton to satisfy judgment obtained by his former lawyers for past-due attorneys' fees.  The 9th Circuit held that under Washington law, the copyrights were subject to execution to satisfy judgments against Clinton.  Further, section 201(e) of the Copyright Act did not protect Clinton from the involuntary transfer of his copyrighted works.  "Section 201(e) is of no help to Clinton because he is not the 'author' of the Masters within the meaning of the Copyright Act. Thang specifically agreed in its 1975 contract with Warner Bros. that Warner Bros. would be the sole owner of the master recordings resulting from the parties’ contract. Thang and Clinton were 'deemed [Warner Bros.’s]
employees for hire' in the same contract.  As noted, the parties signed a substantially similar agreement in 1979, and it is uncontested that all four Masters were created under these agreements. *** [E]ven if the Masters were not originally 'works for hire,'  § 201(e) protection does not apply where a copyright was
previously 'transferred voluntarily by that individual author.' There is no question that Clinton transferred any interest that he had in the Masters to Warner Bros., and, as part of a settlement arising from unrelated litigation, Warner Bros. subsequently agreed to transfer ownership back to Clinton. These voluntary transfers provide yet another basis for rejecting Clinton’s argument that he enjoys § 201(e) protection as the original author of the master sound recordings."  Accordingly, it was not an abuse of discretion to appoint a receiver to manage or sell ownership of the copyrights.  Clinton's defenses raise on appeal -- judicial estoppel and fraud on the court -- lacked merit.  Other defenses were waived for failure to raise them below, and in any event lacked merit.

June 23, 2014

Injunction Entered On Use Of Platters Band Name

Herb Reed Enterprises, Inc. v. Monroe Powell's Platters, LLC, No. 2:11-cv-02010 (D. Nev. June 17, 2014).

The Court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, granting plaintiffs approximately $60,000 and enjoining defendants from using the mark THE PLATTERS in connection with any vocal group or live musical performance.  First, the Court found that plaintiffs have common law rights in THE PLATTERS mark, even though they do not have a registered mark in THE PLATTERS, based on their registered mark HERB REED AND THE PLATTERS.  There was no genuine issue of fact that plaintiffs owned interests in THE PLATTERS mark and that those interests were superior to defendants.  Second, the court found a likelihood of confusion under the 9th Circuit test.  Accordingly, a permanent injunction was appropriate.  Damages were also awarded for both domestic and foreign profits.

Workshop Agreement Does Not Permit Attorneys Fees Or Indemnification

Bowen v. Paisley, No. 3:13-cv-0414 (M.D. Tenn. June 16, 2014).

The Court held that defendant's counterclaims for breach of contract would proceed, but their counterclaims for indemnification and attorney's fees would be dismissed.  Plaintiff wrote and recorded a song and alleged that two popular country music artists (Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood) violated her copyright interests.  Plaintiff alleged that defendants gained access to her song when she performed it during a 2008 country music songwriting workshop in Nashville, in which two other defendants served as guest instructors.  Those defendants alleged that s a condition of participation in the workshop, plaintiff signed a consent agreement, in which the plaintiff effectively waived her right to bring the copyright claims asserted, at least as they related to access gained in the workshop.  First, the Court found that the defendants could not assert contractual indemnification under the agreement because it would lead to an "absurd result" of requiring plaintiff to defend the defendants against her own claims.  Second, the Court held that it would permit the defendant's breach of contract claim -- based on a covenant not to sue provision -- to remain, but recognized that the claim would eventually lead to "a doctrinal thicket" as to its viability.  Lastly, the Court held that the attorneys fees claim failed under the language of the contract.

Infringement Action Against Lady Gaga Dismissed; No Substantial Similarity

Francescatti v. Germanotta; No. 11-cv-520 (N.D. Ill. June 17, 2014).

The Court granted defendant Lady Gaga's motion to dimiss the copyright infringement case over Gaga's song "Judas", even though the Court found that defendants had access to plaintiff's song "Juda," because no reasonable trier of fact could find that the songs are substantially similar.  With respect to access, the Court found that based on the nature and timing of a collaboration between Gaga and other defendants, a reasonable juror could find that there exists a nexus -- via a channel of communication -- between the parties and that therefore the defendants had an opportunity to hear the plaintiff's songs.  Accordingly, defendants were not entitled to summary judgment on that ground.  However, the Court found no substantial similarity.  First, the Court undertook an extensive analysis of whether expert testimony was necessary, or permissible, to determine similarity under the ordinary observer test.  The Court found that expert testimony was warranted because the songs are sufficiently complex, especially given the use of computer technology.  Second, the Court undertook the extrinsic-intrinsic test and held that the songs are substantially similar.  The songs do not share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another's work.

June 9, 2014

6th Circuit: Bar Owner Liable For Vicarious Copyright Infringement

Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Meadowlake, Ltd. et al., No. 13-3933 (6th Cir. June 6, 2014) [decision].

The Sixth Circuit holds that an individual, who owned 95% a limited liability company that owned a restaurant that offered dancing and live music, was liable for vicarious copyright infringement (public performance right).  As the company’s chief (95%) owner and the restaurant’s ultimate decision maker, the individual defendant had the right and ability to supervise the infringing performances.  According to the 6th Circuit, "This case indeed falls within the heartland of vicarious liability."  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that his son was the day-to-day manager of the restaurant, that he claimed ignorance of the infringement, and that ownership via a limited liability company shielded liability.  "Either way, Roy profited from infringement at his restaurant while refusing to exercise his right to stop it. And so either way, Roy remains vicariously liable."

June 5, 2014

DOJ To Review ASCAP & BMI Consent Decrees

Multiple news outlets are reporting that the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, has agreed to open a review of the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees.  See the DOJ announcement and ASCAP's statement.

May 27, 2014

Copyright Claim Dismissed Against Usher Because No Substantial Similarity

Edwards et al. v Usher Raymond IV et al., No. 1:13-cv-07985-DLC (S.D.N.Y. filed 05/23/14) [Doc. 36].

Plaintiffs alleged that a song recorded and published by defendants, including Usher, willfully copied the plaintiffs' original musical composition.  On defendants' Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court found that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for copyright infringement because the two songs were not substantially similar as a matter of law.  Accordingly, the Court dismissed the sole copyright infringement claim, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim for breach of contract.

First, the Court found that the phrase "caught up," which is the title of both songs, is not eligible for copyright protection because it is a common phrase.  Second, the Court found that lyrics from the two songs expressing the ideas in question were not substantially similar.  Third, the Court ignored bare legal conclusions in the complaint that the songs are substantially similar.  Lastly, the Court also took a "holistic" approach, and determined that the two songs' music and lyrics, considered as a whole, confirmed a lack of substantial similarity.

May 23, 2014

Attorney Sanctioned In Usher Copyright Action

Marino v. Usher et al., Index No. 6811-cv-11 (E.D. Pa. memorandum dated May 21, 2014).

The court dismissed most of the plaintiff song-writer's copyright infringement claims against Usher and other defendants, and sanctioned plaintiff's counsel for behaving "in a flagrantly unprofessional and offensive manner."  The sanctionable conduct: the attorney "(1) inveigled an inculpatory affidavit from unrepresented Defendant William Guice; and (2) after falsely assuring Guice that he was only a witness, entered a default against him."

April 30, 2014

Attorney's Fees Awarded To Madonna In Infringement Action

VMG Salsoul LLC v. Madonna Louise Ciccone et al., No. 2:12-cv-05967 (C.D. Cal. filed Apr. 28, 2014) [Doc. 148].

Madonna and other music-industry defendants were awarded their attorney's fees in a copyright infringement action in which the Court had dismissed plaintiff's claim, finding that the alleged infringement of the musical composition was not sufficiently original to be copyrightable and that any alleged sampling was de minimis.  Although the Court found that the fees and costs were unreasonable and unnecessary to the litigation, and therefore declined to award the full amount requested, the Court nonetheless awarded defendants $670.117.25 in attorneys’ fees and $50,055.00 in costs, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 505.

April 11, 2014

2d Cir. To Hear Vimeo Interlocutory Appeal

Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo LLC, 2d Cir. Index Nos. 14-15 and 14-16 (2d Cir. April 9, 2014) [Doc. 57].

The Second Circuit agreed to hear interlocutory appeals, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), and to consolidate the appeals.  The Second Circuit is now in a position to rule on whether the DMCA applies to pre-1972 sound recordings, and to clarify the willful blindness doctrine.

March 27, 2014

Use Of Rapper's Image On Website Constitutes Copyright Infringement And Violated Right Of Publicity; Questions Remain on Trademark And Third-Party Contribution Claims

Jackson v. Odenot, No. 09-cv-05583 (S.D.N.Y. filed March 24, 2014) [Doc. 150].

Rapper 50 Cent was granted summary judgment on his claims against a website for the unauthorized use of photographs that appeared on the masthead of the website.  50 Cent's claim for copyright infringement was based on a registration for a sound recording which included the relating artwork/photos, and exact copies were used by the defendants.  50 Cent's claim under New York state law for the right of publicity (Civil Rights Law sections 50-51) succeeded because: (1) the pictures "are recognizable likenesses of Jackson because someone familiar with Jackson would be able to identify him in each of the mastheads", and (2) defendants' waived their statute of limitations defense.  However, the Court found that there were questions of fact that precluded summary judgment on 50 Cent's claim under the Lanham Act for false endorsement, 15 USC 1125(a)(1), and also on his claim for common law unfair competition.  The Court did dismiss the defendants' affirmative defenses of fair use, implied license, equitable estoppel, and unclean hands, and found that the other affirmative defenses had been abandoned.  Lastly, the Court held that defendant could not recover on a contribution theory under copyright and trademark law against the third-party defendants, but could seek contribution under the New York state claims.

March 20, 2014

Rate Court Sets ASCAP Fee For Pandora

IN RE PETITION OF PANDORA MEDIA, INC., No. 12 Civ. 8035 (S.D.N.Y. filed 03/18/14) [Doc. 738].

In a lengthy decision, the ASCAP rate court held that: "The headline rate for the ASCAP-Pandora license for the years 2011 through 2015 is set at 1.85% of revenue for every year of the license term. Pandora is entitled to take a deduction for any direct payments to publishers made following their partial withdrawals from ASCAP."

March 7, 2014

SESAC Can't Escape Antitrust Claims

Meredith Corp. v. SESAC LLC, No. 09 Civ. 9177 (PAE)., 2014 BL 57263 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 03, 2014).

The issue in this putative class action is whether SESAC's licensing practices since 2008 have violated federal antitrust law. Plaintiffs are groups of local television stations.  They sue SESAC aand allege that, in practice, they must obtain licenses for some music in SESAC's repertory. That is because SESAC's repertory is large and includes works so ubiquitous that some are inevitably embedded in shows that the stations acquire and wish to air.  Plaintiffs contend that, since 2008, SESAC, with its affiliates' assent, has taken steps to make illusory any alternative to the blanket license it sells, which conveys the right to play the music of all SESAC affiliates.  Having insulated this product from competition and forced local television stations to acquire it, plaintiffs allege, SESAC has set an exorbitant price for that "all or nothing" license, even though stations have no interest in buying the rights to the entirety of SESAC's repertory. Plaintiffs assert that SESAC and its affiliates have thereby violated § 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, by combining to unlawfully restrain trade; and § 2 of the same Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2, by conspiring to monopolize the market for the performance rights to the musical works within SESAC's repertory.  Plaintiffs also assert a monopolization claim against SESAC under § 2.

SESAC moved for summary judgment. The Court denied the motion as to all three counts, except that on the § 1 claim, the Court granted summary judgment to defendants in two ways that narrowed that claim. Specifically, the Court rejected plaintiffs' (1) per se theory of liability; and (2) claim of an agreement to restrain trade among all 20,000-plus SESAC affiliates, as opposed to among only the far smaller subset (under 1%) of affiliates who were party to a supplemental affiliation agreement with SESAC.

The Court first reviewed the history of antitrust litigation involving the PROs' licensing practices. The Court then considered the § 1 claim, assessing whether (1) the conduct plaintiffs assail is amenable to per se condemnation; (2) there is adequate evidence of concerted action among SESAC's affiliates to restrain trade; and (3) the evidence would support a conclusion that the anti-competitive effects of SESAC's conduct outweighed its pro-competitive tendencies, i.e., whether a jury could find harm to competition. The Court then considered the § 2 claims, addressing first the monopolization claim and then the claim of a conspiracy to monopolize.

February 28, 2014

Publisher Not Liable For Contributory Liability In Sampling Case Because Lacked Knowledge

Prior v. Warner/Chappel, No. 13-4344 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2014).

The court dismissed plaintiff's contributory copyright infringement claim against defendant music publisher because the complaint failed to allege the defendant "knew or had reason to know that [the song] included an unauthorized, infringing sample...".  Moreover, the complaint failed to plausibly allege how the defendant knew that the directly infringing defendants would infringe as a result of the publisher's licensing of the song.

February 26, 2014

NAPSTER Trademark Action Continues In California

Rhapsody Int'l, Inc. v. Lester &, Index No. C 13-05489 CRB (N.D. Cal., Feb. 24, 2014).

The Court denied defendants' motions to dismiss the trademark infringement case, concerning the mark NAPSTER, for failure to state a claim, lack of jurisdiction and improper venue.  The Court found that plaintiff stated a claim for trademark infringement, dilution, cybersquatting, unfair competition, and unfair business practices.  The Court also found that plaintiff made a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction, and that transfer to Virginia for defendants' convenience was insufficient to warrant transfer.

February 24, 2014

Blacked Eyed Peas Not Liable For Infringement In Absence Of Access And Lack Of Similarity

Pringle v. Adams, No. 12-55998 (9th Cir. Feb. 21, 2014).

The 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants -- the Black Eyed Peas and related parties -- in a copyright infringement case.  The Court found: "The evidence in support of Plaintiff, however, raises only the barest possibility that Defendants had access to [the song], and Plaintiff does not argue that there is a 'striking similarity' between [the song] and Defendants’ allegedly infringing work."  The 9th Circuit also affirmed sanctions against plaintiff for violating a court order regarding service of process on one of the defendants.

February 5, 2014

Cross-Border Licensing In Europe One Step Closer To Reality

BNA reports that the European Parliament approved (by a vote of 640-18 with 22 abstentions) a system that will allow online music services to get licenses that cover multiple EU member states.  Currently, licensing rights must be obtained in each of the EU member states.  Further approval is required before becoming law.

January 23, 2014

11th Circuit Clarifies Author's Standing When Publisher Registers Copyright As Author's Assignee

Smith v. Casey, No. 13-12351 (11th Cir. Jan. 22, 2014) (decision here).

At issue in this appeal is whether the author of a musical composition who assigned his rights in exchange for royalties may rely for purposes of standing to sue for infringement under the Copyright Act on a registration his publisher filed.  The 11th Circuit found that the lower court erred in concluding that the estate lacked statutory standing to sue for copyright infringement.

The basic facts are this.  Around the same time a song called "Spank" was recorded, Harrick Music, Inc. (Harrick Music), a publishing company affiliated with the record label Sunshine Sound, registered a copyright for the musical composition “Spank,” identifying Smith as composer and itself as claimant.  Harrick Music checked a box on the registration indicating the song was not a composition made for hire.  In the ensuing years, Smith acquiesced in Harrick Music’s administration of the “Spank” composition copyright, but, he alleged, the company never remitted a cent to him. According to the complaint, neither did Sunshine Sound. Under Smith's Recording Agreement with Sunshine and the form songwriter’s agreement attached to it,
however, Smith was owed percentage royalties for the song’s exploitation in exchange for assigning his rights to it. So on November 28, 2011, shortly before his death, Smith through counsel sent a cease-and-desist letter revoking Harrick Music’s authority to administer “Spank.” And Smith also filed with the Copyright
Office four Notices of Termination, seeking to formally record his revocation. Despite this, the defendants continued to commercially exploit the composition, and thereafter Smith's estate sued for infringement of the composition (not the sound recording).

Two defendants (not Sunshine or Harrick) moved to dismiss, and the district court concluded Smith lacked statutory standing to pursue his copyright claim and sua sponte dismissed that count with prejudice as to all of the defendants.  Harrick Music, not Smith or his estate, had registered the copyright, the district court noted, and registration was a necessary precondition to filing suit for infringement.

On appeal, the 11th Circuit first examined sections 411 and 501 of the Copyright Act: "The 1976 Copyright Act’s legislative history explains that Congress intended 'beneficial owner,' as the term is used in § 501(b), to 'include . . . an author who had parted with legal title to the copyright in exchange for percentage
royalties based on sales or license fees.'"  Continuing,
Under this definition, the estate has a sufficient ownership interest for standing under § 501(b). According to Smith’s allegations, he never signed any agreement giving Harrick Music the right to exploit the “Spank” copyright. But even were we to treat Smith’s agreement to permit Sunshine Sound to execute the form songwriter’s contract appended to his Recording Agreement as acquiescence to its terms for the “Spank” composition, Smith still would only have assigned his rights to the musical composition in exchange for royalties. Thus, he has at least a beneficial interest that satisfies § 501(b) of the Copyright Act.
The twist was that Harrick, not Smith, had filed the registration.  Nonetheless, the 11th Circuit found that "The district court’s construction of § 411(a) was too narrow. Harrick Music registered a claim to copyright in the 'Spank' composition, specifically identifying Smith as the composer and informing the Copyright Office the work was not made for hire. Nothing in § 411(a) indicates that a composer who has agreed to assign his legal interest in a composition, along with the right to register it, in exchange for royalties, may not rely on the registration his assignee files. Where a publisher has registered a claim to copyright in a work not made for hire, we conclude the beneficial owner has statutory standing to sue for infringement."  (Emphasis added).

Although the 11th Circuit reversed on the standing issue, it found that the District Court properly dismissed plaintiff's declaratory judgment claim.

January 17, 2014

Summary Judgment Denied Where Question Of Fact Concerning Plaintiff's Interest In Song

Mayimba Music v. Sony Corp. of Am. et al., No. 12-cv-1094 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2014) [Doc. 30].

The Court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that Plaintiff just "barely" had an issue for the jury, to wit: whether Plaintiff, alleged assignee of the song, still maintained an interest in the copyrighted song, which Plaintiff alleged was used without its permission in a song ultimately recorded by Shakira.  There was conflicting testimony and documentary evidence.

January 9, 2014

Vimeo Decision Modified; Leave To Appeal Granted

Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo, LLC, 2013 ILRC 3345, No. 09-cv-10101 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 31, 2013).

Upon further review of the record, the Court agreed with defendants that Vimeo is entitled to summary judgment with respect to five videos for which the only evidence of employee interaction was that the user's account had been "whitelisted."  "It is simply unrealistic to infer that a Vimeo employee watched" those videos.  Also upon further review, the Court found that for two videos, the infringing nature of the videos was not objectively "obvious" and therefore Defendants did not have "red flag" knowledge of the videos' infringing content.  However, the Court found that 18 of the videos still should go to a jury.

The Court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint to add additional videos, including both pre- and post- 1972 sound recordings.

Lastly, the Court granted Vimeo's motion to certify two questions for interlocutory appeal: (1) Are the DMCA's safe-harbor provisions applicable to sound recordings fixed prior to Feb. 15, 1972, (2) and does a service provider's mere viewing of a user-generated video containing third party copyrighted music automatically give rise to a triable issue of fact as to the service provider's knowledge of infringement under the DMCA?

BMI Rate Court Holds Withdrawals Of Digital Rights Ok

BMI v. Pandora Media, Inc., 2013 ILRC 3301, No. 13-cv-4037 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2013).

The BMI rate court (District Court Judge Louis Stanton) holds that when BMI no longer is authorized by music publisher copyright holders to license their compositions to Pandora (and other New Media Services), those compositions are no longer in BMI's "repertory" and BMI can no longer license them to Pandora or any other applicant.  Accordingly, the Court denied Pandora's motion for partial summary judgment.  The holding is contrary to the ASCAP rate court's finding.

The BMI court focused on section 106 of the Copyright Act and a copyright owners right to "license, or not license, the performance of their compositions as they see fit.  In the exercise of that right the publishers have agreed with BMI to withdraw their New Media performance licensing rights from Pandora and New Media Services.  That is well within their power as copyright holders."  The Court held that songs that publishers have withdrawn New Media licensing rights are not in BMI's new media repertory and therefore BMI cannot deal in or license those compositions to anyone.  "BMI's repertory consists of compositions whose performance BMI 'has the right to license or sublicense.'"

Notably (in fn. 4), the BMI rate court acknowledged that its finding is contrary to that of the ASCAP rate court (Judge Cote).  The BMI court stated: "The inconsistency is just a difference of view of the power of the application of Section 106 and the copyright holders' rights under the Copyright Law, and will be resolved by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit or decree amendment procedures, or managed commercially."

January 5, 2014

Steal This Episode

Though not really about "music," FOX aired an episode of The Simpsons tonight (Jan. 5, 2013), Steal This Episode, all about copyright infringement and online piracy (of movies).  Definitely worth a watch.