June 7, 2016

Blog Moving To www.jgreenbergerlaw.com

Dear Readers,

Effective June 2016, all new posts to "On The Cover Songs" are being made on my new website at http://jgreenbergerlaw.com/blog/

All existing/prior posts are also available on my new website.

Thank you for your support throughout the years.  It has been a pleasure updating you on music-litigation cases since 2007, and I hope that you continue reading the blog on its new platform.

-- Jordan

May 16, 2016

ASCAP Settles DOJ Action Concerning Exclusive Licensing Agreements

USA v. ASCAP, No. 41-1395 (S.D.N.Y. May 12, 2016) (Doc. 749).

The Dep't of Justice and ASCAP have settled a claim concerning approximately 150 ASCAP agreements that granted the performing rights organization exclusive licensing rights allegedly in violation of an earlier consent decree.  The settlement prohibits ASCAP form entering into any agreement under which a songwriter, composer, or music publisher grants ASCAP the exclusive right to license the right of public performance in musical works, and further limits the licensing activities of board members and music publishers.  Further, ASCAP agreed to pay $1.75 million.

May 3, 2016

Band's Shut-Down Facebook Page Not A "Use In Commerce"; Injunction Vacated

Emerald City Mgmt., LLC v. Kahn, No. 15-40446 (5th Cir. Mar. 8, 2016) [decision].

The Fifth Circuit vacated a preliminary injunction ordering the leader of a band called "Downtown Fever" to transfer control of a Facebook account to the band's manager who had registered the mark "Downtown Fever."  The lower court had issued an injunction barring defendant from using the band name, and the defendant thereafter voluntarily de-activated the band's Facebook page.  Then, the lower court found that the plaintiff should be granted an injunction ordering the defendant to give control of the Facebook page.  However, the appeals court found that was an abuse of discretion because "neither shutting down a Facebook account nor blocking administrator access to a Facebook account constitutes 'use in commerce' of a trademark.  Because the Facebook page was not accessible to anyone, the defendant was not using the trademark.

April 19, 2016

Former Commodores Band-Member Properly Enjoined From Using "Commodores" Or Performing Under "Commodores" Name

Commodores Entertainment Corp. v. McClary, No. 14-14883 (11th Cir. Apr. 15, 2016).

The 11th Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction enjoining the defendants from using the "The Commodores" mark and from performing under the name "The Commodores featuring Thomas McClary" or "The 2014 Commodores."  The Commodores were a popular funk/soul group on the Motown label in the 1970s (hits included Brick House and Three Times a Lady).  In the early 1980s, two fo the original members of hte group left to embark on solo careers, including defendant McClary.  The remaining members, as the plaintiff corporation, continued to perform and registered four trademarks.  In 2014, defendant McClaray began performing songs made famous by the band in the 1970s with his own band called "The Commodores featuring Thomas McClary" or "The 2014 Commodores."  This use gave rise to litigation, and the lower court granted plaintiff a preliminary injunction.  The 11th Circuit affirmed, finding that defendant's use was likely to confuse and therefore plaintiff was likely to succeed on the merits, and further that the plaintiff had standing and had made a showing of irreparable harm.  Lastly, the Court found that there was no error with the distric court's conclusion that the defendants may be enjoined extraterritorially (i.e., outside of the United States).

April 14, 2016

Attorney's Fees Denied to Prevailing Gaye Family in Blurred Lines Case

Williams v. Bridgeport Music, No. CV13-6004 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 12, 2016).

After winning a trial, the Gaye Family was denied its application for attorney's fees under section 505 the Copyright Act.  Also, the taxable costs requested by the Gaye Family, as the prevailing party, were reduced.  As to attorney's fees, the Court underwent an analysis of the "Fogerty" & "Lieb" factors, and found that the factors did not weigh in favor of the Gaye Family as the prevailing party.  "Beyond the success on the merits, little else supports their position.  This case presented novel issues.  How they would be determined was not, even with hindsight, something that was clear."

Federal 2nd Circuit Certifies Pre-72 Question To New York's Highest Court in Flo & Eddie Case

Flo & Eddie v. SiriusXM Radio, 15-1164cv (2d Cir. Apr. 13, 2016).

In the "Turtles" case against Sirius for common law copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings under New York common-law, the Second Circuit certified the question to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals: "This case presents a significant and unresolved issue of New York copyright law: Is there a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings under New York law and, if so, what is the nature and scope of that right? Because this question is important, its answer is unclear, and its resolution controls the present appeal, we reserve decision and certify this question to the New York Court of Appeals."

The lower court had denied Sirius' motion for summary judgment, and the Second Circuit reviewed the matter de novo.  The Circuit stated "the issue before us is whether New York common law affords copyright holders the right to control the performance of sound recordings as part of their copyright ownership."  However, New York's highest court has not ruled on the issue in any prior case, and without such guidance, the Circuit was "in doubt" whether New York provides such rights under common law.  Thus, the Court found that certification to the New York Court of Appeals was appropriate.  Accordingly, the Court reserved decision and certified the following question for decision by the New York Court of Appeals:

"Is there a right of public performance for creators of sound recordings under New York law and, if so, what is the nature and scope of that right?"

March 21, 2016

Pre-72 Class Actions Stayed In Light Of Turtles' Appeals

Sheridan v. iHeartMedia, 15-cv-7574; Sheridan v. Sirius XM, 15-cv-7576 (D.N.J. Mar. 16, 2016).

In a putative class action, the owners of sound recordings made before 1972 brought copyright infringement and unjust enrichment claims under New Jersey law against defendants for broadcasting their recordings without receiving authorization or compensation.  Defendants moved to stay the case pending the resolution of three similar actions currently before the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd, 9th and 11th Circuits.  The court granted the stay.  "Most importantly, the Court finds that staying this case until the Second, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have ruled on related cases will more likely than not simplify the issues presented here and promote judicial economy."

March 17, 2016

Rapper Can't Use "Rolls Royce" Name Or Images

Rolls-Royce Motor Cards v. Davis, No. 15-0417 (D.N.J. Mar. 11, 2016).

On an unopposed motion for default judgment, the Court entered a permanant injunction restraining the defendant rapper from using the name "Rolls Royce Rizzy" and using Rolls Royce imagery.  Plaintiff brought claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false designation of origin, and trademark dilution under the Lanham Act, and was awarded default judgment on those claims.  However, Plaintiff was not awarded default judgment on its claim for unfair competition under New Jersey common law.

March 10, 2016

Beastie Boys & UMG Awarded Attorney's Fees In TufAmerica Copyright Action

TufAmerica, Inc. v. Diamond et al., No. 12-cv-3529 (S.D.N.Y. filed Mar. 9, 2016).

The Court awarded the Beastie Boys and their label, UMG, attorney's fees under section 505 of the Copyright Act, after they successfully defeated plaintiff's infringement claims at summary judgment.  The question at summary judgment was whether Plaintiff had standing (they did not), and the Court found that awarding fees furthered the objectives of the Copyright Act by deterring the filing and pursuit of lawsuits in which chain of title has not been properly investigated by the plaintiff.   The court reduced the Beastie Boys' lawyer's fees by 10% for some vague billing entries and duplicative work; 15% was reduced from the label's lawyer's fees based on vague and sparse entries.  Beastie Boys and UMG were also awarded costs.  The totals were:
  • Beastie Boys: approx. $591k fees, approx. $11k costs
  • UMG: appox. $234k fees, approx $8k costs

New Service Grandfathered For Pre-1998 Royalty Rates

SoundExchange v. Muzak, No. 15-cv-476 (D.D.C. filed Mar. 8, 2016).

The Court held that Muzak, a grandfathered "preexisting subscription service" under 17 USC 114, enjoyed a favorable royalty rate -- not subject to the  "willing buyer/willing seller" standard -- for its SonicTap service even though that service was not offered at the relevant statutory date.  Interpreting the statute, the Court found that Congress intended to permit preeexisting subscription services to expand their offerings.  This ruling was also consistend with the legislative history and findings by the Register of Copyrights.

March 8, 2016

Elvis Denied US Discovery of Sony Music For Litigation in Germany Adverse To Arista Music

In re  Elvis Presley Enters. LLC, No. 15-mc-386 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 1, 2016).

Elvis Presley Enterprises LLC is party to a litigation in Germany against Arista Music, and sought to serve a subpoena in the USA on Arista's affialiate, Sony Music, to obtain documents that it claims are relevant to the proceedings in Germany.  The Court exercised its discretion and denied the application pursuant to 28 USC 1782.  Weighing in favor of Sony's opposition to the discovery were: Arista is a wholly-owend subsidiary and thus has access to the documents and information held by Sony, the procedural posture of the case in Germany (it was on appeal), the timing of the section 1782 application, and the discovery requests were burdensome.

February 25, 2016

Co-Ownership Claims In Jay-Z Songs Time Barred; 2nd Cir.

Mahan v. Roc Nation, No. 15-1238cv (2d Cir. Feb. 24, 2016).

A former Roc-a-fella Records sound engineer's copyright co-ownership claims in certain Jay-Z recordings, brought 14 years after the recordings were made and released, are time-barred, holds the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in affirming the lower court's dismissal of the claim.  The Court found that defendants had expressly repudiated the plaintiff's ownership claim years prior, when the multi-million copy selling albums were released without attribution to him or the payment of any royalties.  Accordingly, the clock started ticking then.  The Court further found that the defendants were properly awarded their attorney's fees under the Copyright Act, and remanded solely for a determination of the amount of fees available on the appeal.

Cars' Audio Technology May Require Royalty Payment

Alliance of Artists &Rec. Cos. v. Gen. Motors Co. et al., No. 14-1271 (D.D.C. Feb. 19, 2016).

Audio technology that has been installed in a number of car models since 2008 may require payment of royalties under the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (17 USC 1001 et seq.), holds the court in denying the defendant car manufacturer's motion to dismiss.  The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 requires manufacturers, importers, and distributoers of "digital audio recording devices" to incorporate copying control technolgy into their devices and pay a set royalty amount for each device.  The statute has been referred to as a "compromise" and at the time of its adoption then-current technology was much different than it is today (DAT tapes were the issue then).  On defendants' Rule 12 motions to dismiss, the Court undertook an extensive and detailed analaysis of the statutory text and agreed with Defendants' asserting that a "digital audio recording device" must be capable of producing "digital audio copied recordings;" that these recordings are a type of "digital music recording;" and that the device's output must therefore comport with the definition of a digital music recording that is establisehd at 17 USC 1001(5).  However, the Court also concluded that the plaintiff's complaint sufficiently alleged facts that, if true, could plausible demonstrate that Defendants' devices are in violation of the statute.

February 22, 2016

Pre-1972 Copyright Claims Limited By 3, Not 6, Year Limitation Period

ABS Entm't, Inc. v. CBS, No. 15-cv-6801 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2016).

New York's 3 year statute of limitations "for an injury to property" applies to plaintiffs' claims for common law copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings, holds the Court, not the State's 6-year "catch-all" provision.  CPLR 213(1) and 214(4).  Plaintiffs, a putative class, allege that CBS violated the public performance rights of pre-1972 sound recordings as protected under New York common law, and allege common law infringement and unfair competition.  The narrow issue before the Court was whether a 3 or 6 year limitations period applied, and Judge Koetel held that the plain meaning of "property" (as used in the 3 year statute) is broad enough to encompass intangible property, like intellectual property in the form of sound recordings (or trade secrets).  In other words, the 3 year limitations period is not limited to tangible property.  Notably, the Court recognized that "the case law is mixed" on this question, addressing both the Flo & Eddie [80 F. Supp. 3d 535 , 541 (S.D.N.Y. 2015)] and Harrison [44 Misc. 3d 428 , 986 N.Y.S.2d 837 , 838 (Sup. Ct. 2014)] cases.

February 18, 2016

"Rat Pack" Generic For Live Shows

TRP Entertainment v. Cunningham, No. 13-16754 (9th Cir. Feb. 16, 2016) [non-precedential].

The 9th Circuit held that the term "The Rat Pack" is generic in the context of live shows about or in tribute to members of the Rat Pack, therefore not identifying any particular producer of a Rat Pack tribute show.  Further, the lower court correctly ordered a disclaimer of the term "The Rat Pack" modifying the plaintiff's trademark registration pursuant to 15 USC 1119.

February 2, 2016

Band Member May Sue As Third-Party Beneficiary Of Contract Between Record Label and Suspended Loan-Out Company

Bozzio v. EMI Group Ltd. et al., No. 13-15685 (9th Cir. Jan. 26, 2016).

The 9th Circuit held that the front-woman of the '80s new-wave band "Missing Persons" could sue the band's record label for breach of contract (whether proper royalty rates were paid) as a third-party beneficiary of the contract between the record label and the "loan-out" company created by the band, even though the State of California had suspended the corporation's status for failure to pay certain taxes.  "The parties have not cited, and we have not found, any California case holding that a third-party beneficiary cannot sue the promisor for breach of contract when the promisee is a suspended corporation."  Additionally, interpreting a related Artist Declaration, the 9th Circuit held that plaintiff did not necessary waive the benefits of the contract under the provision requiring band-members to look to the loan-out company (not the label) for the payment of royalties.  Language in the Loan-Out Agreement was in tension with language in the artist declaration.  Accordingly, the district court -- which had dismissed with prejudice believing that amendment would be futile -- was reversed.

No Rehearing By Second Circuit For "Santa Claus" Copyright Termination Case

Baldwin v. EMI Feist, No. 14-182 (2d Cir. Jan. 29, 2016).

In the copyright termination case concerning "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," the Second Circuit denied defendant-EMI's application for a rehearing (by the panel or en banc).

January 20, 2016

Village People Claims Dismissed On Res Judicata Grounds

Willis v. Scorpio Music, No. 15-cv-1078 (S.D. Cal. order dated Jan. 19, 2016).

In a second lawsuit concerning ownership of various "Village People" compositions, the district court dismissed a 50% owner's claims based on defendant's false claim of authorship, breach of fiduciary duty, and vicarious copyright infringement.  As to the false ownership claims, the Court held that plaintiff was barred by the doctrine of res judicata from brining claims that he could have brought in the earlier action.  As to the vicarous copyright infringement claim, the court held that the defendant had the right to license the composition and thus there was no infringement.  Lastly, the court held that co-owners of a copyright -- though they have a duty to account -- do not have fiduciary duties to one another.

January 19, 2016

Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Untimely Copyright Claims Against 50 Cent

Simmons v. Stanberry, No. 14-3106-cv (2nd Cir. Jan. 15, 2016).

Plaintiff, who alleged he was the exclusive licensee of a hip-hop beat later sold to rapper 50 Cent and successfully exploited by him, was too late in filing a lawsuit against the licensor and 50 Cent, says the Second Circuit in affirming dismissal of Plaintiff's copyright claims.  Plaintiff was aware of the dispute of defendants' right to exploit and use the beat, and of the alleged infringement, but waited more than three years to file suit.  Relying upon Kwan v. Schlein, 634 F.3d 224 (2d Cir. 2011), the Court held that notwithstanding the occurrence of allegedly infringing acts within three years of filing the action, the suit was nonetheless barred by the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. § 507(b).  Because Plaintiff's ownership claim was time barred, he could not revive the time-barred claim of ownership of a copyright interest by relying on the defendants’continued exploitation of the copyright within three years of his filing suit.