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.