Roberts v. Gordy, No. 16-12284 (11th Cir. Dec. 15, 2017).
The 11th Circuit held that, in a case brought by hip-hop artists over the use of their song "Hustlin'" in the dance song "Party Rock Anthem," the lower Court erred in invalidating the plaintiffs' copyright registrations. The District Court had sua sponte raised the issue of invalid copyright registrations and failure to demonstrate ownership in dismissing the case at summary judgment.
First, the Appellate Court held that invalidity was not raised as an affirmative defense, and therefore should not have been the basis for dismissal, as it was waived by the defendants. Second, the Appellate Court held that the lower court applied the wrong standard -- specifically on the element of scienter -- in finding that there had been a fraud on the copyright office in obtaining the registrations.
Rappers are skilled in poetry and rhythm—not necessarily in proper copyright registration procedures. While error is not generally a strong legal argument, it is a sufficient counter to a claim of Fraud on the Copyright Office. This is not a case where Rapper A attended a Rapper B concert, heard a delightful song, stole the composition, and fraudulently registered it with the Copyright Office—far from it. There is no dispute by any party that Appellants authored and created Hustlin’, and there is no dispute that they continue to receive the writers’ share of royalties from their musical composition. Furthermore, Appellees never proffered any argument or theory as to why Appellants would attempt to deceive the Copyright Office, when they are, in fact, the undisputed authors. As indicated by the absence of any sort of motive for deception, the errors made in each of the registrations were done in good faith. As portions of the ownership interest were acquired by record companies, those companies— incorrectly, but in good faith—filed for a new registration to protect their newly acquired interests presumably under the assumption that no previous registration had been filed.
Accordingly, the case was remanded. "The Appellants were erroneously 'hustled' out of court, and now deserve to be heard on the merits."