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1. Coca-Copyright Case
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Vergara, Rafa
Defendants Coca-Cola
Other Bisbal, David
K'naan
Short Description Rafa Vergara isn't as well known as the other names associated with this suit, but he is a very accomplished songwriter, producer, and performer, whose contributions to Latin stars like Marc Anthony and Jaci Velasquez have garnered significant success in the music business. Coca Cola, through Universal Music, contacted Vergara about adapting English lyrics by the artist K'naan into Spanish, to be sung by David Bisbal, for an upcoming Coca Cola advertisement during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer Games. Vergara, with full permission, translated the lyrics and also produced the song. When Vergara sent a bill to Universal, they asked him to sign a document clarifying that his work was done "for hire," which means he did not own the copyright in his own contributions. Vergara brought suit, alleging copyright infringement and requesting a preliminary injunction preventing Coca-Cola from airing the commercial without proper attribution, as he was guaranteed. The court granted Vergara's request, finding that the work was not "for hire," and, further, that he was not a joint author but the sole author of the derivative composition. Irreparable harm was also likely without injunctive relief. However, summary judgment was later granted to Coke's on the copyright infringement claim, despite Vergara's contentions, because Vergara had, in writing, assigned his copyrights to Coke via email communications; the Copyright Act requires assignments to be in writing, and the communications met this requirement. Nonetheless, a preliminary injunction was upheld against Coke in a later opinion because the lack of attribution, which was plainly promised to Vergara, was still likely to cause harm. - LSW


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2. Lil' Jon's Copyright Trouble (III)
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Defendants Artist(s)
Lil' Jon (and the East Side Boys)
Record Label(s)
TVT Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff was a friend of Lil' Jon, hanging out at the studio, when they decided to buy some weed. Good call. After an impromptu song, "The Weedman" emerged from the experience, Lil' decided to record it, and Plaintiff, who was neither given copyright interest in the song nor reimbursed, sued. The court held that by teaching the song to Lil' Jon without any restrictions, Plaintiff had granted Lil' an implied license, and Defendant's summary judgment was granted on the infringement. Similarly, Plaintiff's claim for breach of fiduciary duty was summarily dismissed. - LSW


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3. Christian Singer Sues Manager
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Licciardello, Carman
Defendants Music Manager(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Carman Licciardello is a Christian singer and evangelist. His Wikipedia page says he's "received 15 gold and platinum albums," though the RIAA (who grants these awards) does not have a single entry for him in their database. In this case, Licciardello sued a former manager for using his name and likeness in connection with instructional CDs aimed at people looking to work as music managers. Defendant included Plaintiff, among other artists, as evidence of Defendants' prowess in the field. Plaintiff sued under trademark and privacy theories, but the District Court denied Plaintiff personal jurisdiction. The appellate court disagreed. Not only was Defendant's website accessible in Florida, where Plaintiff brought suit, but by applying the "effects" test for intentional torts, the court held Defendant had expressly aimed her tortious acts at Plaintiff's forum. Because the court found exercising jurisdiction to be fair, and because Florida has an interest in protecting its citizens from out-of-state torts, the court found personal jurisdiction and reversed. - LSW


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4. Poison Clan Rapper vs. Record Label
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Lil' Joe Records
Music Publisher(s)
Other 2 Live Crew
Luke Records
Poison Clan
Short Description Band sued Luke Records after it went bankrupt and was unable to fulfill its contracts with Plaintiff. Judgment for Defendant. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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5. Rush Guitarist Fights at the Ritz
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Music Manager(s)
Music Promoter(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Rush
Defendants Place of Public Accomodation
Security Guard(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description At a New Year's Eve party at a Ritz Carlton in Florida, Rush guitarist Aleksandar Zivojinovich (better known as Alex Lifeson) and his son, Justin, acted distruptively and were ejected by police officers at the hotel's request. Alex and Justin were admittedly acting inappropriately at the event, but hotel staff exaggerated the story to police officers in an attempt to have them removed. After being asked to leave, the situation escalated, ending in both Alex and Justin getting "tazed," and Alex receiving a broken nose. Both pleaded no contest to restisting arrest without violence, but then a flurry of lawsuits followed, brought by the officers against the Zivojinoviches and by the Zivojinoviches against the officers and the Ritz. Even Rush joined the suit, alleging Alex's injuries were detrimental to the band's business. The court disposed of all counts except one: Alex and Justin's negligence claims against the Ritz. Because hotel staff had lied to police officers to instigate the duo's removal, the court held that the hotel had breached a duty "not to lie," and that the staff's breach increased the risk of injury to the Zivojinoviches. Because hotel staff may have breached their duty, the hotel could be vicariously liable as well. Alex and Justin's actions against the officers for unconstitutionally excessive force were dismissed; the officers had acted appropriately, at least, perhaps, given the inaccurate reports they'd received from the hotel personnel. Rush's cause of action didn't even exist, and the band had no standing. According to the court's summary, all parties acted a bit out of line, so the outcome doesn't seem too unfair. - LSW


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6. 2 Live Crew vs. 50 Cent
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Lil' Joe Wein Music, Inc.
Defendants 50 Cent
Interscope Records
Shady Records
Universal Music Group
Other 2 Live Crew
Short Description The copyright holder of 2 Live Crew's song "It's Your Birthday" sued 50 Cent and his record company for copyright infringement for the use of the phrase "Go____, it's Your Birthday" in his hit song "In Da Club," which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Court granted judgment for 50 Cent, holding that the use of the disputed phrase is a common hip hop chant, and was therefore not an original copyrightable element of a song. - SKR


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7. Nelly's Clothing Line Infringe?
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Vokal
Defendants Clothing Manufacturer(s)
Nelly
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Many unknown artists think they've hit it big when famous artists begin using names similar to their own; they see a potentially lucrative trademark settlement at their fingertips. Unfortunately, they lose a lot. Here, a Florida-based hip-hop group named Vokal, sued Nelly and his associated entities for their clothing line also called Vokal, alleging violations of unregistered trademarks under the Lanham Act. Plaintiff's name however--merely a description of their style of music--was insufficient to warrant protection without secondary meaning in the eyes of the public, of which there was none. Thus, Plaintiff's minimal use of the mark was insufficient and their claim must fail. - LSW


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8. Artists Galore Want More Insurance
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2000
Plaintiffs Acklin, Barbara
Butler, Jerry
Cavaliere, Felix
Chambers Brothers
Coasters
Drifters
Hyland, Brian
Jackson, Doris
Mayfield, Curtis
Sam & Dave
Thompson, Marshall
Wells, Mary
Wilson, Jackie
Young Rascals
Defendants American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description 18 artists sued their record labels and union for breach of fiduciary duty for failure to make contributions to the artists' health and retirement plans. The court held that the artists lacked standing and denied them class certification for the purpose of litigating their claims. - LSW & SKR


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9. Feds vs. Counterfeit Tori and Beasties
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Federal Prosecutor(s)
Defendants Bootlegger(s)/Counterfeiter(s)
Other Amos, Tori
Beastie Boys
Short Description The Defendant was convicted of violating the federal anti-bootlegging statute for selling Tori Amos and Beastie Boy shows. The Defendant challenged his conviction by asserting the law was unconstitutional because it did not fall under the Copyright or Commerce Clause. Until 1971, there was a gap in copyright law that allowed someone to record a live music performance. As part of international agreements, the US enacted criminal liability for bootlegging. The Court declined to answer whether the Copyright Clause allowed for prosecution, noting, however, that there was a question concerning the fixing of a performance that is essentially unfixed at the time it is created and whether it would fill under the term "writing" as that word is used in copyright. The Court did find that the law was permissible because it regarded an intrastate activity that could affect interstate commerce. While Congress did not address the Commerce Clause when it crafted this legislation, the Court was able to access independently the jurisdiction of the law. They found it self-evident that the recordings have an effect on commerce since it is done for profit by the criminal. This illicit trade thereby dampens the legal trade of music. The law was passed for the U.S. to acknowledge a treaty that aimed to provide consistency in intellectual property rights. The Court looked at older cases, such as the Trademark Cases that would allow legislation to survive under the Commerce Clause, if not the Copyright clause. The Court decided it could allow the law to stand since the power granted under the Commerce Clause was not explicitly prevented by the Copyright Clause. The Court brought up, but did not answer, the fact that the Copyright Clause eventually allows something to become public domain while the anti-bootlegging statute has perpetual protection. - JMC


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10. Bolivar Sues Co-Writer
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 1998
Plaintiffs Bolivar
Lawyer(s)
Defendants Rogers, Ron
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Bolivar, a composer and performer of Caribbean music, released an album entitled "Yellow Bird" and contracted with Defendant to have him distribute the album in Florida. Defendant eventually stopped distributing the cassettes of the album and allegedly repackaged the cassettes with the title "Sunny Days" and sold them for his own personal profit. Bolivar subsequently sued Defendant for violating his copyright, infringing on his trademark, converting his personal property, breaching the distribution contract, and breaching his fiduciary obligations to Bolivar. During the litigation for Bolivar's case, the district court imposed monetary sanctions on Bolivar's attorney for violations of discovery orders. In the present case, Stuart Levin, the principal of the firm representing Bolivar, appealed the district court's imposing of sanctions against him because he was not the "advising attorney" for Bolivar's case. The court found that Levin's arguments lacked merit, and affirmed the imposition of sanctions. - SKR


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11. Lyric Translator vs. Julio Iglesias
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 1993
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Iglesias, Julio
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff assisted Iglesias with translating a French song into Spanish, and was allegedly promised royalties in return, but never received any royalties. She sued Iglesias over 10 years later, asserting numerous contract-based claims. While the claims were not preempted by the copyright, since they were not equivalent to copyright rights, the statute of limitations began when Plaintiff first knew of the deficient payment, and is barred. - LSW


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12. "The Man" vs. 2 Live Crew (I)
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 1990
Plaintiffs 2 Live Crew
Luke Records
Defendants County Entity and/or Official(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description A Broward County sheriff found probable cause that 2 Live Crew's third album, Nasty as They Wanna Be, was obscene, and arrested a black retailer for selling the album. The rap group sued the county for restraint and First Amendment protection, but were subsequently arrested for performing the song in a Florida nightclub. The court reversed the lower court's obscenity ruling, finding that the sheriff failed to apply the Supreme Court's obscenity standard in Miller v. California. The court was unwilling to concede that the last prong of the Miller test, which requires determination of whether a work "lacks serious artistic, scientific, literary or political value," was met in this case. - SKR & LSW


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13. Dylan's "Hurricane" Defame Witness?
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 1983
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants CBS, Inc.
Columbia Records
Dylan, Bob
Levy, Jacques
Warner Bros. Publications
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In 1975, Bob Dylan and Jacque Levy wrote a song called "Hurricane," chronicling the trial and false conviction of boxing legend Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Plaintiff is Patty Valentine, a witness at the trial mentioned in the song, alleging that the song's accusations, directed at others (not Patty), indicate a conspiracy took place to condemn Carter, and--according to Plaintiff--imply Ms. Valentine was a participant in the scheme. She sued for Defamation and Invasion of Privacy. The court found for Defendants on all counts. The defamation claim was defeated because not only did the song not imply Valentine's participation, Defendants had literally written the song, along with lawyers, to be sure it did not. Privacy claims were disposed of easily, since the First Amendment offers protection from such actions regarding issues of public concern, obviously relevant here. - LSW


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14. Plaintiff's Exclusive Elvis Theory
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 1982
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants ABC, Inc.
News Producer(s)
Rivera, Geraldo
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Plaintiff is one of many people claiming Elvis Presley's death was some conspiracy or murder plot. He met with ABC and representatives for Geraldo Rivera, hoping to sell his "exclusive story" that Presley was killed by his bodyguards (or physician) through withholding a necessary medication. At that meeting Plaintiff had Defendants sign a contract saying they wouldn't take his ides. Defendants told Plaintiff he'd need evidence, of which he had none. When Defendants later aired a story that Presley's death may have been the result of prescription drugs, Plaintiff sued, even though the story was entirely different from his own. Perhaps he wanted a monopoly on all conspiracies surrounding Elvis's death. The court found Defendants had not used Plaintiff's idea, so they couldn't have breached the agreement, infringed copyright, misappropriated anything at all. - LSW


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