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Judge Robert Jones overturned a verdict that the creators of “Jersey Boys,” had improperly used material from an unpublished autobiography of Tommy DeVitto.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.

"Jersey Boys" Infringes Copyright In Unpublished Autobiography, Finds Jury

Corbello v. DeVito, No. 08-867 (D. Nev. Nov. 28, 2016) [Doc. 1084].

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the "Jersey Boys" infringement action, finding that plaintiff did not grant an implied license to use the unpublished autobiography of Tommy DeVito (a member of the Four Seasons), that the play infringes the unpublished autobiography, that there was no fair use, that 10% of the success of the play is attributable to the unpublished autobiography, and that ten defendants were liable for direct infringement.  The docket reflects that the Court set a briefing schedule for post-trial motions, and directed the defendants to place monies in escrow.

Stairway To Heaven Not Copyright Infringement Finds Federal Jury

Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, No. 15-cv-3462 (C.D. Cal. June 23, 2016).

After about one day of deliberating, a federal jury in California returned a verdict in favor of Led Zeppelin finding that their iconic song "Stairway To Heaven" did not infringe the song "Taurus" by 1960's band Spirit.  News outlets report that the jury found that while Led Zeppelin had a reasonable chance of having heard "Taurus" in order to copy it, the songs were not extrinsically similar.

"Whomp! (There It Is)" $2 Million Jury Award Affirmed

In re: Isbell Records, Inc. (Isbell v. DM Records), No. 13-40878 (5th Cir. Dec. 18, 2014).

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a finding that plaintiff owned the copyright in the composition of the song "Whomp! (There It Is)", that defendant was liable for infringement based on its exploitation of the song for year, and the jury's award of over $2 million in damages.  The primary issue was whether a 50% interest in the song had originally been assigned to the plaintiff or the defendant's predecessor-in-interest (the other 50% remained with the writers/producers of the song).  The 5th Circuit held that California contract interpretation law applied, and that the lower court correctly found that the contract granted the 50% interest in the song to the plaintiff.

On appeal of defendant's trial motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 for judgment as a matter of law, the defendant raised two issues regarding the district court's interpretation of the recording agreement as assigning a single 50% interest to plaintiff.  First, the Court rejected defendant's argument that the lower court erred in interpreting the agreement without asking the jury to make any findings on extrinsic evidence.  Second, the Court rejected defendant's argument that the agreement also assigned a second 50% interest in the composition copyright because the argument had not previously pursued that theory and had disclaimed the theory at an earlier hearing.  In short, the defendant could not raise its "two assignments theory" after not previously asserting it at trial or in its earlier Rule 50 motion.

On appeal of defendant's motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) for relief from judgment based on fraud and lack of standing, the Court rejected defendant's argument that it was prevented from presenting the defense of plaintiff's lack of standing.  Even if the plaintiff had improperly withheld a certain document, it would not have affected plaintiff's standing and thus would not have affected defendant's defense.

With respect to the jury's damage award of over $2 million, the Court rejected defendant's argument that plaintiff should have only been awarded 1/2 of that amount as 50% owner of the copyright.  First, defendant did not object to the jury charge during trial.  And under the plain-error standard of review, the district court did not err.  Notably, the 5th Circuit found that Edward B. Marks Music Corp. v. Jerry Vogel Music Co., 140 F.2d 268 (2d Cir. 1944), was inapplicable to the issue of first impression whether a partial owner of a copyright can ever be awarded infringement damages for his co-owner's share.  Specifically, the jury could have found that plaintiff was entitled to 100% of the royalties in the first instance as administrator/publisher of the song.  In other words, because plaintiff was obligated to account to the other 50% owners (the producers/writers), plaintiff could recover 100% damages and any issue as to distributions would be a separate case between the co-owners not involving the defendant.

Lastly, in affirming denial of defendant's Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 motion for a new trial, the Court found that plaintiff's closing statement -- referring to defendant as a "thief -- was not abusive and improper.  Defendant did not object to the closing statement at trial and thus the standard of review was plain error.  Evidence was presented at trial form which the jury could find that defendant's conduct was willful and that defendant stole the copyrights from plaintiff.  Further, any prejudice was minimized by the judge's instructions and the statements concerned damages rather than liability.  Further, plaintiff ultimateley elected actual damages which were higher than statutory damages, and willfulness is not an element of actual damages calculation.

Punitive Damages Verdict Significantly Reduced; Defendant Granted Judgment Notwithstanding Verdict On Cover Art And DMCA "Red Flag" Theories

Capitol Records, Inc. v. MP3Tunes, No. 07-cv-9931 (S.D.N.Y. filed Sep. 29, 2014) [Doc. 629].

Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively a new trial, and for remittur following a $48,061,073 jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs, who consisted of record labels and publishers who had filed copyright and unfair competition claims alleging that defendant and MP3Tunes made infringing copies of copyright songs and cover art.  The motion was denied in part, and granted in part.  Specifically, defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law was granted as to plaintiffs' claims of (1) public display rights in cover art, and (2) copyright infringement under "red flag" knowledge and willful blindness theories (except for certain works sideloaded and which the source domain's URL was obviously infringing and viewed by a company executive).  Further, defendant's motion for a new trial on punitive damages was granted unless plaintiffs elected to remit the jury's punitive damage award to $750,000.

1st Cir Affirms $675,000 Jury Award For Unauthorized Downloads/Distributions

Sony BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum, No. Case: 12-2146 (1st Cir. filed 6/25/2013) [Doc. 00116547502].

From the decision:
Joel Tenenbaum illegally downloaded and distributed music for several years. A group of recording companies sued Tenenbaum, and a jury awarded damages of $675,000, representing $22,500 for each of thirty songs whose copyright Tenenbaum violated. Tenenbaum appeals the award, claiming that it is so large that it violates his constitutional right to due process of law. We hold that the award did not violate Tenenbaum's right to due process, and we affirm.
The two issues on appeal were: (1) what is the correct standard for evaluating the constitutionality of an award of statutory damages under the Copyright Act; and (2) did an award of $675,000 violate defendant's right to due process?  On issue one, the Court held that the correct standard was that announced in St. Louis, I.M. & S.Ry. Co. v. Williams, 251 U.S. 63 (1919), that a statutory damage award violates due process only "where the penalty prescribed is so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportionate to the offense and obviously unreasonable."  On issue two, the Court found that the award did not violate defendant's due process rights.

New Trial In EMI/Citi Case

Terra Firma Investments v. Citigroup, Docket No. 11-1267 (2d Cir. May 31, 2013)

After a jury trial, judgment was entered against Plaintiff.  The Second Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial, "[b]ecause the district court’s jury instructions were based on an inaccurate understanding of the relevant English law".

This case concerns the 2007 acquisition of EMI by the private equity firm Terra Firma.  Terra Firma sued Citigroup, alleging that during the auction, a Citi banker advising the auction fraudulently induced the Terra Firma to make an inflated bid for EMI.  A jury ruled in Citi's favor.

Judge Reduces TM Jury Verdict Award To Hendrix

Experience Hendrix, LLC v. Hendrixlicensing.com, Ltd. et al., No. 2:09-cv-00285 (W.D. Wash. filed Sep. 21, 2011) [Doc. 160].

Plaintiffs own various tradmarks incorporating Jimi Hendrix's name, image, signature, song titles and/or lyrics. Defendants used one or more of these federally registered markes on products bearing Hendrix's image or art he created. The case proceeded to trial on three issues: damages for trademark infringement, defendants' liability for violation of Washington's Consumer Protection Act, and upon a finding of liability, actual damages for the consumer protection violation. After trial, the jury deliberated and rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiffs awarding, on the infringement claim, actual damages of $306,650 and defendants' profits of $60,000.

The Court concluded that the evidence, when construed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, permitted only one reasonable conclusion, which was contrary to the jury's verdict concerning lost profits. "Having entirely failed to carry their burden proving expenses, plaintiffs are not entitled, as a matter of law, to an award of lost profits."

The Court further concluded that the jury's awards for injury to reputation and injury to goodwill were contrary to the Court's instructions and unsupported by the evidence.

The Court denied plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees under the Lanham Act in light of defendants' overall success and lack of bad faith. However, Plaintiffs were entitled to attorneys fees under the state consumer protection claim -- which the Court limited to $50,000 (or 10% of the amount requested by Plaintiffs).

Lastly, the Court entered a limited permanent injunction.

File Sharing Jury Award Reduced 90%

Sony BMG Music v. Tenenbaum, No. 07 Civ 11446 (D. Mass. memo and order filed July 9, 2010):

This copyright case raises the question of whether the Constitution’s Due Process Clause is violated by a jury’s award of $675,000 in statutory damages against an individual who reaped no pecuniary reward from his infringement and whose individual infringing acts caused the plaintiffs minimal harm. I hold that it is.


Joel Tenenbaum (“Tenenbaum”), the defendant in this action, was accused of using file- sharing software to download and distribute thirty copyrighted songs belonging to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are a group of the country’s biggest recording companies. Their lawsuit against Tenenbaum is one of thousands that they have brought against file sharers throughout the country. Tenenbaum, like many of the defendants in these suits, was an undergraduate when his file- sharing was detected.

P2P Jury Award Set Aside

RIAA's $222,000 verdict in Capitol v. Thomas set aside. Judge rejects 'making available'; attacks excessive damages. [Article]

September 24, 2008, decision setting aside verdict

Synopsis from Ray Beckerman:
In Capitol v. Thomas, District Judge Michael J. Davis has set aside the jury's $222,000 verdict and ordered a new trial, ruling that his jury instruction -- which accepted the RIAA's "making available" theory -- was erroneous. He also rejected the 'offer to distribute' theory.