3rd Cir. Affirms Judgment For Usher In "Bad Girl" Copyright Dispute

Marino v. Usher, No. 15-2270 (3rd Cir. Dec. 8, 2016).

Songwriter-plaintiff appealed the lower court's grant of summary judgment to Usher (and the other defendants) in a copyright action involving the song "Bad Girl."  The 3rd Circuit affirmed the finding that the claim must fail because the song was jointly written by plaintiff and certain of the defendants (Guice and Barton).  "The district court correctly held that co-authors of a joint work are each entitled to undivided ownership and that the joint owner of a copyright cannot sue his co-owner for infringement.  The court reasoned that, without direct infringement, there can be no vicarious infringement, hence the derivative song, Bad Girl, did not infringe on Marino’s
rights. The district court also concluded that Guice and Barton conveyed a valid nonexclusive
license for the song to the other defendants."

Additionally, the Court held that the state-law claims were pre-empted, that the plaintiff had granted an implied license, that his sound recording claims failed because there was no copyright registration for the sound recording, and that defendant's were properly granted costs/fees (in a 90% reduced amount based upon plaintiff's financial circumstances).  Lastly, the Court affirmed the financial sanction entered against Plaintiff's lawyer for improperly communicating with an unrepresented defendant in violation of the Pennsylvania rules of professional conduct.

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."

Partial Attorney's Fees Awarded In MP3Tunes

Capitol Records, Inc. v. MP3Tunes, No. 1:07-cv-09931-WHP-FM (SDNY filed 04/03/15) [Doc. 689]

Record company and music publisher plaintiffs, who succeeded at trial, moved for an award of partial attorneys' fees and costs under the Copyright Act, and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 against defendant MP3tunes.  The Court granted the motion for partial attorneys' fees, in part, denied the motion for pre-judgment interest, and granted the motion for post-judgment interest.

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.

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.

Songwriter's Widow Sanctioned; Default Judgments In Favor Of Assignee Not Vacated

Bridgeport Music, et al. v. Smith, et al., No. 12-1523 (6th Cir. May 1, 2013).

This action is based on default judgments entered in 2004 that plaintiff obtained against defendants for copyright infringement of the 1974 song "You’re Getting a Little Too Smart" ("Smart").  Plaintiff was the assignee of the songwriter's rights in the song.  In 2011, the songwriter's widow moved to vacate the default judgments, arguing that she, not Plaintiffs, was the legal owner of the copyright by operation of law at the time the lawsuit was filed.  The district court denied the motion, as well as her motion for reconsideration, and the widow appealed.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed, and granted Plaintiffs motion for damages and costs.

After stating the relevant facts, the Court began its analysis by determining who was entitled to what copyright interests in “Smart” under the renewal provisions of the Copyright Act:  "(1) Based on their assigned interest in the initial copyright, Plaintiffs had the right to sue for infringing acts occurring up through December 31, 2002, see 17 U.S.C. § 501(b) ..., and they had three years after that date to bring a cause of action. ... (2) Because Tilmon died prior to the renewal term, Tilmon’s contingency interest in the renewal copyright passed to Tilmon-Jones and Tilmon’s children, on January 1, 2003."

Next, the Court considered whether the widow, as a non-party to the litigation in which the judgments were entered, had standing.  The Court determined she did not have standing to bring a Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion.  Rule 60(b) provides in pertinent part that a “court may relieve a party or its legal representative” from a final judgment.  Nor was the widow in privity, or were here interests "strongly affected."

The Court also found that the widow's motion to vacate the judgments was untimely under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1), which requires such motion be made within a reasonable period of time.  She did not file the motions until 6 years after constructive notice of the judgments (due to recordation of the judgments with the Copyright Office), and 7 years after they were entered.  The motions also were barred by a release the widow signed in another action.

Lastly, the Sixth Circuit sanctioned the widow and her counsel, pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 38 and 28 U.S.C. § 1912.  "The conduct of Tilmon-Jones and her counsel was objectively and patently meritless and a waste of judicial resources. Tilmon-Jones maintains that her appeal is not frivolous because the question of whether a nonparty has standing under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) was not obviously without merit. This may be true, but it does not obviate the fact that her appeal was utterly without merit because it was untimely and barred by a release. We find that this appeal is frivolous and that sanctions are appropriate."