Aimee Mann Copyright Claim Survives Dismissal Based On Terminated License

Aimee Mann v. MediaNet Digital, Inc., et al., No. 2:13-cv-05269 (C.D. Cal. filed 11/27/13) [Doc. 26].

Plaintiff Aimee Mann (“Mann”), a songwriter and recording artist, brought this copyright infringement action against Defendant MediaNet Digital, Inc. (“MediaNet”), f/k/a MusicNet, a distributor of streaming music, online radio, and music downloads to companies like Songza, Stub Hub, Soundtracker, MTV, Yahoo Music, and Time Warner Cable (among others).  MediaNet moved to dismiss the copyright claims and Plaintiff's claim for rescission of a license agreement.  The Court denied the motion to dismiss the copyright claims, but dismissed the rescission claim with leave to replead.

On the copyright claims, MediaNet argued that Mann’s claim for direct infringement should be dismissed because: (i) MediaNet had a valid license at all relevant times and therefore cannot be liable for copyright
infringement, and (ii) the License Agreement was not terminated on December 4, 2006 as a matter of
law.  The Court found that MediaNet did not have a statutory compulsory license (17 U.S.C. 115).  The Court also found that the 2003 License Agreement was no longer in effect.  Relying on New York General Obligations Law § 5-903, Mann asserted that because MediaNet failed to alert her to the existence of the auto-renewal provision, the License Agreement was not automatically renewed after its initial term ended on December 4, 2006.  The Court agreed that the auto-renewal of the License Agreement is unenforceable under § 5-903. As such, Mann’s allegation that MediaNet exploited her pre-December 5, 2003 and post-December 4, 2006 compositions after the initial term of the License Agreement stated a claim for copyright infringement.  The Court further found that Mann had stated claims for secondary copyright liability (contributory, inducing and vicarious liability).

However, Mann's claim for rescission was dismissed with leave to replead.  The Court found rescission is an equitable remedy and that that Mann had failed to explain why the non-payment of royalties could not be adequately remedied by monetary damages. "This failure is fatal to her rescission claim."

Bay City Rollers' Royalty Suit Not Time-Barred

Faulkner v. Arista Records LLC, 07 Civ. 2318 (LAP), NYLJ 1202495926616, at *1 (SDNY, Decided May 23, 2011).

Plaintiffs, all former members of 1970s-era musical group the Bay City Rollers, brought this action alleging that they were owed tens of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties from their record company, Defendant Arista Records, LLC ("Arista"). Plaintiffs claim these royalties pursuant to a 1981 agreement; accordingly, Arista argues that even if it owes Plaintiffs accrued royalties from the time period prior to 2001, the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs' claim. Plaintiffs counter that Arista acknowledged its debt in a writing, thereby satisfying Section 17-101 of New York's General Obligations Law, which restarts the statute of limitations to revive the debt.

Section 17-101 of New York's General Obligations Law ("Section 17-101") codifies and restricts the common-law rule that an acknowledgement of a debt is sufficient to refresh the obligation, thereby restarting the running of the statute of limitations. To restart the running of the statute of limitations under Section 17-101, an acknowledgment or promise must be in writing, be signed by the debtor party, recognize an existing debt and contain nothing inconsistent with an intention on the part of the debtor to pay it.

Plaintiffs and Arista have each moved for partial summary judgment on Arista's affirmative defense that the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs' claim. The Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, and denied Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment.