Arista v - Chock full of Fed R Civ P

United States District Court (SDNY) Judge Baer's recent decision in Arista Records LLC v. Usenet.Com Inc., No. 07 Civ. 8822, 12/05/08 NYLJ "Decision of Interest" (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 24, 2008) is chock full of federal civil procedure issues. The decision, which granted plaintiff's motion to dismiss or strike Usenet's counterclaims for declaratory judgment, addressed the following issues:

Rule 12(f) - striking redundant pleadings
Rule 8(c)(2) - mistakenly labeling a defense a counterclaim
Rule 12(b)(6) - failure to state a claim
Rule 12(b)(1) - jurisdiction
Rule 41(a) - once answer filed, court has discretion to determine the proper terms of dismissal and whether it is with prejudice (concerning defendant's fear that if plaintiffs were to voluntarily dismiss their complaint, Usenet would be threatened with future litigation by plaintiffs)

The crux of the decision concerns counterclaims. The Court held that counterclaims are viable only when they present an independent case or controversy; counterclaims will be dismissed if they are merely a "mirror image" of the complaint. Therefore, because Usenet's DMCA safe-harbor counterclaims could not stand on their own without the complaint (i.e., the DMCA does not create an affirmative cause of action, but rather a defense), then they were dismissed. Moreover, the court noted, the counterclaims were not factually distinguishable because Usenet had not made any independent factual allegations. (The Court similarly dismissed Usenet's counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that its activities do not constitute inducement of copyright infringement, contributory infringement, or vicarious copyright infringement: this counterclaim, too, was a mirror image of plaintiff's copyright infringement claim.)

Lastly, the Court found that Usenet's argument that it would be precluded from recovering costs and attorneys' fees if its counterclaims are were dismissed was without merit. Pursuant to Section 505 of the Copyright Act, the Court would have discretion to award costs and attorneys' fees, irrespective of any counterclaims, if Plaintiff's claims were ultimately to fail.

Kanye & Jay-Z "What? What?"

Kanye West and Jay-Z are among the co-defendants in a case filed in the District of Maryland (which Plaintiff erroneously describes in the caption as being in the Sixth Circuit).
Plaintiff Dayna D. Staggs -- who is likely appearing pro se -- has asserted...request your own copy of the complaint here. The complaint is an interesting, if not sometime confusing, read. But don't get the wrong idea; OTCS believes plaintiff's complaint would withstand a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim!

From what we gather from the single spaced, unnumbered, 6 page complaint (which includes a single signature line for the multiple defendants), Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, damages, and legal fees arising for copyright infringement, unfair competition, and "unauthorized use of Plaintiff [sic] likeness and Mtv sound recording, composition and internationally musical content entitled 'Volume of Good Life' herein described on phonorecord white label by the United States Library of Congress." Though Plaintiff's grammar and syntax could be improved, the allegations have a good chance of satisfying FRCP's liberal pleading standards (Rule 8). What could be a more "short and plain statement" than one completely lacking legalese?
Plaintiff alleges that he is the songwriter for the composition "Hollar at Me" (1985), released on EMI by R&B artists ICEE HOTT. But, this is all of minor relevance because the alleged infringement relates to Kanye West's release of "Good Life" on Roc-a-fella records. Plaintiff alleges to be the author of a composition and sound recording entitled "Volume of Good Life", which Kanye West sampled without authorization (and which his label released).
Additionally, "the vulgar, sexual and racially-charged nature of the Infringing master work is directly counter to [Plaintiff's] long established public persona, utterly inconsistent with the musician, artist clean image. And harms the reputation of the Dayna D Staggs Copyrighted Rock/Pop master work clean titled 'Volume of Good Life." [sic].
Despite the numerous grammatical errors in his complaint, Plaintiff appears to have some idea of what he is doing. For example, he sent cease and desist letters which "did not receive a favorable response". He alleges the labels have commercially profited from the infringement. He alleges willful infringement -- "Defendants are undoubtedly familiar with [Plaintiff], his songwriter likeness, and also are friends of the Plaintiffs myspace page located at" He makes claims for legal fees, and claims that he has no adequate remedy at law (though he later requests punitive damages and states "the Actual harm Plaintiff suffered is reflected in the amount of licensing fee that Plaintiffs lost because of the infringement").
So in sum, Plaintiff has asserted an unauthorized sampling claim against Kanye West and his label and publishers.
[Staggs v. West et al., No. 08-cv-0728-PJM (D.Md. filed Mar. 20, 2008).]

Going Back to Ohio

OTCS was in Cleveland for the weekend and was reminded of one of its most popular blog entries regarding a copyright infringement action filed in the Northern District of Ohio against a winery for failure to obtain ASCAP public performance licenses. Following up on this matter, it appears that not much has occurred since initially filed. However, Judge Catherine O'Malley granted defendant winery an extension until February 27, 2008 to file an answer or other responsive pleading.

Generally Rule 12(a)(1)(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("...defendant shall serve an answer within 20 days after being served with the summons and complaint...").

[Freejunket Music et. al v. Ferrante Wine Farm, Inc; case no. 1:08-cv-00155; order issued Feb. 7, 2008]

Joinder in DOE Suits

A California federal judge rejected joinder of John Does 2-5 in a P2P suit filed by the multiple record labels. See Rules 20 and 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In its order denying plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, the court cited authority for its holding:
...numerous courts have held the opposite: that joinder of defendants who allegedly downloaded music using the same ISP and the same file-sharing program is improper. See, e.g., Interscope Records v. Doe, No. 04-0197 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 1, 2004) (severing defendants who used the same ISP and same file-sharing program); see also BMG Music v. Doe, No. 06-CV-1579 (N.D. Cal. July 31, 2006) (severing defendants who used the same ISP); BMG Music v. Doe, No. 04-650 (E.D.Pa. Mar. 5, 2004) (same); Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. v. Doe, No. C-04-4862 ("[The allegation that defendants used the same ISP] amounts to no more than a claim that ten unrelated defendants engaged in distinct and unrelated conduct.").

Analysis by Recording Industry v. the People here.

[Sony BMG Music Entertainment v. Does 1-5; No. Cv-07 2434-SJO (C.D.Cal denying plaintiff's motion for reconsideration entered Sep. 4, 2007) (Docket No. 9)]