Paul McCartney and Sony Settle Copyright Termination of Transfer Litigation

McCartney v. Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, et al., No. 17-cv-363 (ER) (S.D.N.Y. Document 41 Filed 06/29/17).

The parties resolved their litigation involving Paul McCartney's termination notices by entering into a confidential settlement agreement and jointly requested that the Court enter a proposed order dismissing the action without prejudice.

Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Over BBC Films In Copyright Infringement Action

Hit Bound Muisc, Ltd. v. BBC Films, et. al., No. 2:16-cv-7125 CBM (Ksx) (C.D. Cal. June 2017).

BBC Films is a British Corporation responsible for providing broadcast television, radio news and entertainment content in the United Kingdom. Hit Bound Music Ltd., a Canadian music publisher, sued BBC, among others, alleging that the company infringed on three of Hit Bound’s copyrights for the soundtrack in the film “My Old Lady.”

The court ultimately dismissed the claims against BBC Films for lack of personal jurisdiction, determining that the company’s principal place of business is in the United Kingdom. Hit Bound argued that BBC should be subject to general jurisdiction because one of their subsidiaries maintains an office in Los Angeles. The court held that BBC Films had no business operations or property in California and the company is not incorporated in California so it is not subject to general jurisdiction and the parent-subsidiary relationship is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman.

Court Partially Voids Deal Between Prince's Estate and Universal Music

In re: The Estate of Prince Rogers Nelson, Deceased, No. 10-PR-16 in the Carver County District Court June 2017.

A Minnesota judge voided a portion of Universal Music Group’s $31 million deal with Prince’s estate, ordering the estate to refund Universal Music Group’s advanced payment.

After determining that the exclusive licensing agreement made back in January included rights that were already guaranteed to Warner Bros. through previous agreements, Prince’s estate asked the court to rescind the agreement so they could ensure no overlapping occurred. The court determined that rescinding the agreement was in everyone’s best interest as opposed to long and expensive litigation. 
 

Claims Over 'Steve Harvey Show' Theme Song Trimmed

We 3 Kings v. The Steve Harvey Show, No. 2:14-cv-08816-DSF-AS Document 213 (C.D. Cal. Filed 06/23/17).

California District Judge, Dale Fischer granted partial summary judgment in favor of “The Steve
Harvey Show” , in regard to all copyrights except those filed prior to We 3 Kings Inc.’s
first amended complaint. In 2014, We 3 Kings Inc., brought suit against the Steve Harvey Show, its production company, and 27 satellite broadcasting and cable companies for using its music for its second season after their license for the first season had expired. We 3 Kings Inc. is seeking $700 for each time the music was used in the show’s second season, multiplied by each of the television stations that distributed it. The damages amount to $42.3 million.

Judge Fischer stated that a copyright suit cannot be maintained if a copyright application had not been submitted to the Copyright Office prior to the filing of the complaint. Only one of the copyrights at issue were submitted prior to the filing of the first amended complaint.

The Steve Harvey Show argued that the company had an express license from We 3 Kings, Inc.
for season one of the show, and an implied license for any episodes thereafter. We 3 Kings, Inc.
refuted The Steve Harvey Show’s argument, stating that the contract was approved by We 3
Kings Inc.’s ousted president and is unenforceable. Judge Fischer stated that there are still
significant questions of material fact remaining in regards to both parties’ arguments. However,
Judge Fischer did agree with The Steve Harvey Show’s argument that the broadcasting
companies are protected from copyright liability by a statute that grants them a blanket license to air the episodes at issue because they had no input in the content of the work.

Lyndard Skynard Tour Info Must Be Turned Over

Ronnie Van Zant Inc. et al. v. Artimus Pyle et al., No. 1:17-cv-03360 (S.D.N.Y. June 2017)

 

The legal entities and estates for founding late Lynyrd Skynyrd band members are seeking a permanent injunction blocking the production of a film about a plane crash that killed some of the band’s original members.

 

Following the plane crash, members of Lynyrd Skynyrd went on a 10-year hiatus, which ended once the surviving members reunited for a tribute tour. Judith Van Zant Jenness, widow of Van Zent, brought suit amid the reunion tour, which ended in a consent order laying out the details of all future Lynyrd Skynyrd events and their post-breakup image.

U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet ordered that the legal entities for the late band members must produce any available tour lists and information regarding Lynyrd Skynyrd shows that followed the 1988 agreement. The film company is arguing that the band has been violating the agreement for years. Judge Sweet ordered the information to determine whether ex-drummer Artimus Pyle and Cleopatra Films are in compliance with the agreement.

The plaintiffs are currently in the process of developing their own film about the band.

In Case Involving The Name of a Band, The U.S. Supreme Court Rules Disparagement Clause of Lanham Act Unconstitutional

Matal v. Tam, No. 15-1293 (U.S. June 19, 2017)

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act was unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.  The disparagement clause of the Lanham Act, Section 2(a), prohibited the registration of trademarks that my, “disparage ... or bring ... into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U.S.C. §1051(a).

An Asian-American rock band, “The Slants,” were refused registration of their band name based on a 2(a) rejection that “the slants” is a derogatory term for Asians. The Supreme Court held that the disparagement clause was not narrowly drawn enough to prevent trademarks that support discrimination. The court stated that the clause, “reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: ‘Down with racists,’ ‘Down with sexists,’ ‘Down with homophobes.’ It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.”

Judge Overturns ‘Jersey Boys’ Verdict; Jury Came to Wrong Conclusion

Corbello v. DeVito et al., No. 2:08-cv-00867 (D. Nev. June 13, 2017)

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones overturned a verdict that the creators of “Jersey Boys,” had improperly used material from an unpublished autobiography of Tommy DeVitto. In November, the jury found for Donna Corbello, widow of Rex Woodard who was the ghostwriter of DeVitto’s autobiography. After the jury found that the show’s writers infringed on the copyrighted material, the defendants filed a motion for a new trail. Judge Jones determined the show’s content constituted fair use of the book. He stated that the jury could have found 145 creative words to have been copied from the book into the show. He determined those 145 words to constitute about 0.2 percent of the 68,500 words in the book. Back in November, the jury concluded that 10 percent of the play’s success was credited to the book, which Judge Jones called “unsupportable.” While comparing the book to the play was a difficult job, the jury also had to deal with 40 pages of instructions, which may have caused them to come to an improper conclusion.

Illinois & Common Law Copyright Infringement Of Pre-1972 Songs

Sheridan v. iHeartMedia Inc., No. 1:15-cv- 09229 (N.D. Ill. June 5, 2017).

An Illinois judge dismissed a class action against iHeartMedia Inc. to start paying royalties for pre-1972 sound recordings. The judge ruled that any copyright protection afforded by the state’s common law is extinguished when a song is published. The judge said that Illinois’ common law would only protect unpublished songs and once a song was sold or broadcast, “no common-law copyright protection is available for those recordings.”

Spotify Settles Songwriter Royalty Class Action

Ferrick v. Spotify USA Inc. et al., No. 1:16-cv-08412 (S.D.N.Y. May 30, 2017).

Spotify has agreed to pay $43 million to settle two class actions brought by Camper VanBeethoven lead singer David Lowery, and singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick. The actions claimed that Spotify chose “systemic and willful copyright infringement” by failing to pay proper royalties to thousands of songwriters and their music publishers.

SoundExchange Royalties Case Against Muzak Reinstated By Appellate Court

SoundExchange v. Muzak, No. 16-7041 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 25, 2017).

The D.C. Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of SoundExchange's complaint against Muzak, which alleges that Muzak underpaid royalties.  SoundExchange is a nonprofit entity charged with the responsibility of collecting royalties for performing artists and copyright owners of music; Muzak is a company that supplies digital music channels to satellite television networks who, in turn, sell to subscribers.  Muzak argued that it was permitted to pay lower, "grandfathered," rates that had been set by a copyright royalties board even after certain corporate changes.  There had been a statutory change in the 1990s as part of the DMCA-compromise, and the case turned on the statutory definition of a "preexisting subscription service."  The Court concluded:

The grandfather provisions were intended to protect prior investments the three business entities had made during a more favorable pre-1998 rate-setting regulatory climate. “Muzak was [a] pioneer music service that incurred both the benefits and risks that came with its investment,” specifically its investment in DishCD. 71 Fed. Reg. at 64,646. But when Muzak expands its operations and provides additional transmissions to subscribers to a different “service,” (i.e., SonicTap), this is an entirely new investment. * * * We conclude, therefore, that the better interpretation of the statute is that the term “service” contemplates a double limitation; both the business and the program offering must qualify before the transmissions are eligible for the favorable rate.

Lyric Infringement Claim Dismissed Under Renewal Provisions Of 1909 Act

Chase v. Warner Bros. et al., No. 15-cv-10063 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2017).

Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim was dismissed because under the 1909 Copyright Act the author of the lyrics, which had been included in a songbook of nursery rhymes, had not renewed the copyright.   Instead, the book itself (a "composite" work) had been registered and renewed by the publisher.  But under section 24 of the 1909 Act, the Court held that the publisher could only renew its interest in part of the book and that the author of the lyrics, which had been contributed to the book, needed to renew the copyright in the lyrics.  Accordingly, the defendants' motion to dismiss was granted, because the author of the lyrics had not renewed the registration for the part that she had contributed to the book.  (Defendants were alleged to be using the lyrics in the TV show The Big Bang Theory).

No Case Or Controversy In ISP's Declaratory Judgment Suit of NonInfringement

Windstream Services v. BMG Rights Management, 16-cv-5015 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 17, 2017).

Plaintiff, an internet service provider (ISP), brought an action seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement based upon the DMCA's safe-harbor provisions.  Defendant is a music publisher.  The Court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that plaintiff sought an unauthorized advisory opinion (and even if the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, it would exercise its discretion and decline to hear the action).  "[Plaintiff] seeks a blanket approval of its business model, without reference to any specific copyright held by BMG or any specific act of direct infringement by any [plaintiff] subscriber."  The Court observed that the Southern District of California had rejected a nearly identical lawsuit in Veoh v. UMG, 522 F. Supp. 2d 1265 (S.D. Cal. 2007).  The complaint was hypothetical in nature.  Having dismissed the declaratory judgment clai, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claim.

Copyright Ownership Claims Time-Barred For Songs Recently Sampled In Popular Songs

Wilson v. Dynatone Publishing, No. 16-cv-104 (S.D.N.Y. April 10, 2017).

For two songs from the 1970s that were recently sampled in popular songs, Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment judgment that they are the copyright owners of the sampled songs and that the defendants' copyrights are invalid, and Plaintiffs also sought an accounting.  The Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

The Court found that the copyright ownership claims were untimely and barred by the statute of limitations.  The claims accrued in the early 1970s.  The accounting claims, in addition to an absence of allegations of a fiduciary relationship, also were time-barred.

9th Cir. Certifies Questions To California Supreme Court in Pre-72 Sound Recording Case

FLO & EDDIE, INC. V. PANDORA MEDIA, INC., No. 15-55287 (9th Cir. Mar. 15, 2017).

In a case concerning whether California recognizes a common law copyright in the right of public performance for pre-1972 sound recordings, the 9th Circuit certified the following questions to the California Supreme Court:

1. Under section 980(a)(2) of the California Civil Code, do copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings that were sold to the public before 1982 possess an exclusive right of public performance?

2. If not, does California’s common law of property or tort otherwise grant copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings an exclusive right of public performance?

The certification is similar to the questions certified by the 2nd Circuit to the New York Court of Appeals in a companion case involving Sirius.  See fn. 2 and fn. 6.  The 9th Circuit stated:

We agree with our sister circuits that certification is the best way to proceed on these issues, especially in California. As an incubator of both musical talent and technological innovation, California has a significant interest in the appropriate resolution of the certified questions. Resolution of these questions will likely affect the state and industries within the state in a variety of ways, and is therefore best left to the California Supreme Court.

 

Marshall Tucker Band TM Action Dismissed Because Mark Not Used In Commerce

Marshall Tucker Band v. MT Industries, No. 16-420 (D. S.C. Mar. 1, 2017).

In an action by the Marshall Tucker Band alleging trademark infringement, dilution, declaratory judgment, and trademark cancellation under federal law and a host of state-law claims, the Court granted the defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss because the complaint failed to allege that the defendant actually uses the mark in commerce.  Instead, the complaint relied upon statements made by the defendant  when it applied to register two federal trademarks consisting of the mark (The Marshall Tucker Band) to satisfy the use in commerce requirement.  The Court held: "Completely absent from the SAC are any allegations of Defendants’ actual use of the Mark in commerce. Inasmuch as registration of the Mark, without more, is insufficient to constitute a use in commerce, Plaintiffs’ federal trademark infringement claim fails as a matter of law."  The trademark dilution claim was dismissed for the same reason, and the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

2nd Circuit Closes Out "Turtles" Pre-72 Sound Recording Case In Favor Of Sirius

Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius, No. 15-1164-cv (2d Cir. Feb. 16, 2017).

After the New York Court of Appeals answered the Second Circuit's certified question that New York common law does not recognize a right of public performance for creators of pre-1972 sound recordings, the Second Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Sirius's motion for summary judgment and remanded with instructions to grant Sirius's motion for summary judgment and to dismiss the case with prejudice.  The Second Circuit noted that the answer to the certified question was determinative of the other claims.

Singer Ed Sheeran & Other UK Defendants Dismissed From Case, For Now, For Failure To Timely Serve

Griffin v. Sheeran et al., No. 16-cv-6309 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2017) (Doc. 51).

Plaintiff was only able to serve two US-based defendants, notwithstanding the Court's prior order extending the time to complete service on the international defendants, and accordingly the Court dismissed the complaint (without prejudice) against all of the defendants -- including Ed Sheeran -- except for the two US-based Defendants who had been served (Warner Music Group and Atlantic Recording).  There was an additional US-based defendant (Sony ATV) that plaintiff did not even try to serve within Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m)'s 90-day deadline (or the Court-granted extension), and the Court dismissed the case against that defendant.  Nor was any attempt made to serve certain of the UK-based defendants within the 90-day window.  Of the remaining UK-defendants, the Court dismissed the case under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)'s "flexible due diligence" standard.

High School Music Teacher Has Qualified Immunity In "Glee" Copyright Case

Tresona Multimedia v. Burbank High School, 16-cv-04781 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 22, 2016).

In a case involving high school choir performances of four songs, the Court finds that the music director was protected by "qualified immunity" from the plaintiff's copyright infringement claims.  Additionally, the Court found that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue for copyright infringement with respect to three songs; and as to the fourth song at issue, summary judgment was denied due to questions of fact concerning the statute of limitations defense.

As to standing, the plaintiff's rights derived from less than 100% owners of the songs and under 9th Circuit law the plaintiff did not have exclusive rights in the songs and therefore lacked standing.  As to the three year statute of limitations, the Court found a question of fact whether the plaintiff should have known of the infringing activity.

Lastly, as to qualified immunity the Court recognized there was no binding 9th Circuit law on the matter (though some other district courts had considered the issue).  Deciding that the doctrine applied, the Court found that as a matter of law the music teacher was protected.

Blues Musician's Sampling Case Dismissed For Lack Of Jurisdiction In Illinois

Johnson v. Barrier et al., No. 15-3928 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 4, 2017).

The Court granted defendant's Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, without prejudice to refiling in another jurisdiction.  Plaintiff is a blues musician who alleges UMG and others intentionally misappropriated his song by sampling it in another group of songs (the "Juice Products").  After granting plaintiff limited jurisdictional discovery, the federal Court found that it did not have specific or general jurisdiction over the defendants under Illinois law.  The Court observed that " UMG’s wholesale shipments and sales of Juice Products within Illinois constituted only 1% of its total wholesale figures, and—as UMG’s corporate designee testified—none of the marketing associated with the Juice Products was specific to or otherwise targeted Illinois."  Having dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, the Court did not decide the defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.