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1. Paul Wall Gig Raided
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Music Proprietor(s)
Defendants Police Officer(s)
Other Wall, Paul
Short Description As this court opinion makes clear, racism among governmental entities is not a thing of the past, though perhas we'd like to think it is. In the world of music, where racial lines sometimes delineate musical genres' intended populations, these prejudices may unfairly impact people who create, support, and promote specific genres. Hip-hop music, of course, is often the preferred target. In this case, Plaintiffs were two individuals who owned and operated Club Retro, a hip-hop club in Alexandria, Louisiana, operating legally under license from all appropriate agencies. Specifically, the Retro was allowed to admit patrons between the ages of 18 and 21, so long as they did not drink alcohol. The club took appropriate precautions to prevent the admission of illicit drugs, firearms, etc., and complied with governmental restrictions. Regardless, Club Retro was the subject of an excessive, violent S.W.A.T.-style raid, in which a group of police officers burst into the club with shotguns, handguns, and protective gear, physically, verbally, and arguably sexually assaulted numerous Plaintiffs, detained attendees for hours on end, denied patrons access to bathrooms, searched the entire establishment and everyone there, and committed other egregious acts in the process. Despite the intensity of the raid, the club, at the time the officers arrived, was operating legally: it was NOT overcrowded (only 500 people were there, though the capacity neared 700); underage patrons, who were fined by the officers, were present under governmental sanction; and only 7 people (less than 1%) were found with any illicit drugs, which is likely less than at a Phish gig. To make matters worse, the police blockaded a second concert, featuring Paul Wall, the following month, which prevented all but 67 people from attending. Plaintiffs sued, alleging First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations, and the governmental entities claimed "qualified immunity." Thankfully, the federal courts sided with Plaintiffs regarding Fourth Amendment accusations: the officers' actions were not supported by and plainly exceeded any administrative or inspective authority claimed by Defendants, and, in citing underage drinking and fire code violations as jusitications, the raid, arrests, and searches and seizures were objectively unreasonable and unsupported by even an inkling of probable cause. However, the court refused to find Defendants liable under First and Fourteenth Amendments, despite the officers' use of racial epithets during the raid. Though it's sad Defendants were allowed excuses for some of their actions, it's good to know their unacceptable behavior was sanctioned to a large extent. - LSW


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2. Lots of Vacating in Master P Suit
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Koch Entertainment
Master P
Music Distributor(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The word of the day for this lawsuit is "vacate." Why, you may ask? Just read on. Plaintiff sued Master P, Koch Entertainment, and assorted entities for copyright infringement, alleging Defendants copied his song "Where You From" in Defendants' song "Where U From." After the Master P parties failed to answer Plaintiff's complaint, the district court entered default judgment against them. However, the Koch parties answered, and the court granted them summary judgment. After doing this, the court vacated its default judgment against P, saying that, since Koch wasn't guilty of infringement, Master P couldn't be either. However, the appellate court vacated the district court's order vacating the default, because the court gave no notice to Plaintiff, as required by statute, before acting. On remand, the district court once again vacated the default judgment and the appellate court, also once again, vacated the order vacating the default. In its final disposition, the appellate court held that there was nothing "exceptional" about some Defendants being liable while others were not. Koch answered Plaintiff's complaint, and their exoneration reflected that. As far as is apparent, nothing further was vacated. - LSW


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3. Songwriter: "Beyonce Copied!"
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Atlantic Records
Beyonc?
Columbia Records
EMI Music
Jay-Z
Music Publisher(s)
Paul, Sean
Sony Music
Storch, Scott
TVT Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description After Jennifer Armour, an aspiring singer/songwriter, sent a composition to people believed to be associated with Beyonce, Armour alleged Beyonce's song "Baby Boy" infringed on her own composition after seeing Beyonce perform the song in concert. The court affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment for the Defendants. - LSW & SKR


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4. "The Man" vs. 2 Live Crew (IV)
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2004
Plaintiffs 2 Live Crew
Concert Attendee(s)
Promoter(s)
Defendants County Entity and/or Official(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Rap group members, individual concert-goers, and concert promoters sued a sheriff's department for violation of First, Fourth, and Fourteenth amendment rights when the sheriffs set up road blocks and checkpoints outside of a concert planned in Mississippi. The court granted qualified immunity to the sheriffs on some, but not all of the constitutional claims. While several opening acts are reported to have performed, 2 Live Crew did not perform at the Mississippi concert. - SKR


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5. Two Songs Named "Back That Ass Up"
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2004
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Cash Money Records
Juvenile
Universal Music Group
Universal Records
Other DJ Jubilee
Short Description This opinion is too good to be true. Two rap artists, both based in New Orleans, released songs about "backing that ass up" within about a year of each other; Juvenile released the hit song "Back That Azz Up," and the lesser-known Jubilee, released "Back That Ass Up" (the spelling difference would be irrelevant for most purposes). Plaintiff released Jubilee's song in 1997, while Defendants released Juvenile's in 1998. Plaintiff sought to show Defendant copied Jubilee's song. After numerous rulings regarding documentary evidence and expert testimony, et. al., the court found the phrase itself could not warrant copyright protection (it was standard wording of a simple request), and thus, unless the songs themselves were substantially similar, there could be no infringement for the words alone. The court submitted the issues to the jury, who ruled for Defendants on all counts. Since the songs were not substantially similar, there was no infringement. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's holdings, regarding its judgment for Defendants on all issues, including substantive issues of copying, access, and evidentiary and procedural points as well. Defendants' motion for attorneys' fees, however, was denied. - LSW


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6. Girls Gone Wild, Then to Court
Highest Court E.D. Louisiana
Year Ended 2004
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants Film Director(s)
Film Producer(s)
Snoop Dogg
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff was a participant in a "Girls Gone Wild" video hosted by Snoop Dogg, then appeared on the cover of the release. She subsequently sued for violation of her rights to privacy and publicity, seeking economic damages. The court said a lot of things over a lot of opinions. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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7. Mystikal Sampled Novelty Doll?
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2003
Plaintiffs Toy Manufacturer(s)
Defendants Jive Records
Mystikal
Zomba Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The makers of a talking novelty doll, Cajun In Your Pocket, sued rap artist Mystical (and his record labels) for appropriating some of the doll's exact phrases into his song "Shake Ya Ass." Summary judgment for Defendants granted; Plaintiff failed to show the copied phrases had requisite originality. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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8. "Smokey" Johnson Song Sampled
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2002
Plaintiffs Johnson, "Smokey"
Defendants Individual(s)
Music Publisher(s)
No Limit Records
Record Label(s)
Silkk the Shocker
Tuff City Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff, New Orleans session legend "Smokey" Johnson, authored and copyrighted a composition in which Defendant later acquired 50% interest. When Defendant later used portions of the song as samples in new works for Silkk the Shocker, Plaintiffs sued. District Court and Court of Appeals said co-owners cannot sue other co-owners for infringement; other holdings regarding trademark and federal preemption came later. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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9. Blues Artists vs. Collectibles
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 2000
Plaintiffs Abair, Kinney
Bettis, Big Al
Brown, Leonard
Cobb, Arnett
Collins, Big Roger
Dardar,Tommy
Frazier, Skipper Lee
Houston, Guitar Slim
Hughes, Joe ?Guitar?
Juke Boy Bonner
Mayes,Pete
Nelson, Jimmy
Price, Big Walter (The Thunderbird)
Defendants Collectibles Records
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Blues musicians, producers, and songwriters sued the Defendant record label for misappropriation of their names and likenesses, as well as copyright infringement, for marketing their musical performances on CD's and audio cassettes without permission. The court affirmed the trial jury's verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, and further held that the Copyright Act does not preempt the Texas tort of misappropriation. - SKR & LSW


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10. Publisher vs. "Carnival Time"
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Johnson, Al "Carnival Time"
Music Distributor(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Sehorn, Marshall
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs are the original producer and record label executive responsible for releasing Al Johnson's now-famous Mardi Gras song, "Carnival Time," alleging that Johnson assigned his rights in the song to Plaintiffs, who published and released it. After many lawsuits and numerous motions, with Plaintiffs representing themselves pro se, finally all complaints are dismissed. Some Defendants had nothing to do with distributing the song within the statutory period, and, in the end, there was simply no proof Johnson had assigned his copyright, which must be in writing to be valid. - LSW


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11. Freddie King's Widow: "Infringement!"
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Record Label(s)
Other King, Freddie
Short Description The daughter and widow of musicians Freddie King sued Defendant for infringing copyrights to King's compositions and other causes arising from Defendant's sale of King music for profit without permission. Plaintiffs were unsuccessful in their copyright claims, in that they offered no evidence of copying (although it seems apparent from the facts), but the Court of Appeal found merit in the misappropriation and breach of contract claims, reversing the District Court's decision as to the former and affirming the award of damages for the latter. - LSW


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12. Curb Sues Lawyers Over Neville Money
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Curb Records
Defendants Lawyer(s)
Other Neville, Aaron
Short Description This is a malpractice action brought by Curb Records against the local counsel their lead attorney hired to defend the label in a copyright infringement lawsuit regarding "Aaron Neville's Greatest Hits," which they licensed and released. After release, a third party publisher sued both Curb and the publisher from which they licensed the tracks, alleging neither had the authority to act as they did. While initially Curb Records was protected, allowing the two publishers to fight amongst themselves, by failure to file certain discovery documents evaporated their defense and they were once again subject to liability. When Curb realized the mistake they sued their local counsel, not the lead attorney, alleging their failure to file the appropriate documents constituted negligence and malpractice. The court initially held for Defendant local counsel, finding they were working under the direction of Curb's attorney, and thus it was his negligence, not theirs, that lead to the unfortunate oversight. The Court of Appeals reversed, making an educated Erie-doctrine guess how the local courts would rule, saying local counsel has a duty to alert the client of malfeasance/misfeasance by the designated head counsel. After the court held Plaintiff's claim stated a claim, they were granted leave to amend their complaint to add further actions. - LSW


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13. Gladiators vs. P.M. Dawn
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Batiste, David (& the Gladiators)
Defendants Individual(s)
Island Records
MCA Music
P.M. Dawn
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs, the Batistes, apparently rocked their song "Funky Soul" throughout the New Orleans area, and recorded it, under the name David Batiste & the Gladiators, for Defendant publisher's production house and publishing firm, thus assigning the copyrights in the process. The Batistes sued P.M. Dawn and associated entities, despite the latter having licensed the copyrights legitimately from the Defendant publisher for use as samples, alleging trademark, copyright, and other claims. The court held for all Defendants, including the publisher, artist, record label, and others, on all counts, finding lack of jurisdiction as to some, and deciding on the merits as to others. - LSW


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14. Relix Mag Infringe Johnny Winter?
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Music Distributor(s)
Relix Magazine
Relix Records
Other Winter, Johnny
Short Description The two record labels in this suit had previous agreements whereby the Defendant could reproduce and distribute, according to a license from Plaintiff, certain recordings by albino blues musician Johnny Winter. After Defendant purportedly exceeded the scope of the license, Plaintiff sought arbitration, and the arbitrator did not find Plaintiff's favor, prompting Plaintiff to bring this follow-up suit. After the District Court dismissed Plaintiffs suit as contrary to the arbitration proceeding, the appellate court affirmed, upholding not only the arbitration award, but the sanctions imposed by the arbitrator of Plaintiff. - LSW


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15. "Velvet Elvis" Infringe Real Elvis?
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1998
Plaintiffs Elvis Presley Enterprises
Defendants Individual(s)
Place of Public Accomodation
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), the assignee of Elvis Presley's trademarks, service marks, copyrights, and publicity rights, sued Defendant, the owner of a nightclub named the "The Velvet Elvis" for trademark infringement and violation of its publicity rights. The court held that "The Velvet Elvis" mark infringed EPE's marks, the action was not barred by laches, and that EPE was entitled to an injunction enjoining Defendant's use of "The Velvet Elvis" mark. Judgment for Plaintiff. - SKR


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16. Prof. Longhair vs. Grossman and Bears (II)
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1997
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Bearsville Records
Estate of Music Manager(s)
Other Grossman, Albert
Professor Longhair
Short Description Henry Byrd, better known as Professor Longhair, was a New Orleans blues pianist and composer who found a second life as a performer at JazzFest in the 1970s. Byrd did some master recordings that, after a different, aborted recording session with defendants, wound up with the defendant. Byrd did not give any rights to the defendant. The plaintiff's agent made some ineffectual attempts to get the tapes back, but during that time the defendant licensed the recordings to other companies. In fact, one of the records earned Byrd a posthumous Grammy. In 1993, the plaintiff corporation was founded as successor-in-interest for Byrd and his then-dead widow. The appellate court examined two issues. First, the statute of limitations. As an aside, Louisiana operates a different style of law than the rest of the US. It is based off Napoleonic or civil code, so the term used for the limitations mark is "prescription." The district court erred in how it described the property interest that the plaintiff was pursuing. The appellate court examined the two kinds of prescription, but noted that the recordings were personal property not subject to any sort of prescriptive time period. However, the defendant could show at trial that it had acquired the right to possession after a specified period of time. Second, the idea of precarious possession, another civil code concept. The defendant here did not defend against the wrongful possession claim by arguing a right to possess or claiming true ownership. Instead, the court looked to see whether they were possessing the recordings with permission by the plaintiff. The defendant has the burden of proving that it either came to possess the recording through time. The court rejected the defendant's argument that the ineffectual discussions about the tapes served to convert the possessory interest to the defendants. - JMC


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17. Shirley and Lee = Shirley vs. Lee
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1996
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Defendants Family of Artist(s)
Other Shirley and Lee
Short Description Shirley and Lee were a songwriting and recording duo, best known for their classic 1956 hit, "Let the Good Times Roll." Over 30 years after the song was released, Shirley sued Lee's heirs and assidns for co-writer credits and for unpaid roayalties. After numerous (and I mean numerous) court opinions, stretching from the 1980s into the mid-1990s, the court held that, despite the vast amount of time that had elapsed, Shirley's claim was still viable and Lee's heirs owed her past due compensation. The court held that the statute of limitations and the equitable doctrine of laches did not bar her claim, as she'd been unaware of her rights. Though friends had hinted to her that she should probably be making more money than she was, nothing was so definitely stated to alert her of any specific legal claims. Yay for Shirley. After thirty years, the good times did indeed roll. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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18. Royalty Collector vs. "Piano" Smith
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1996
Plaintiffs Royalty Collector(s)
Defendants Smith, Huey "Piano"
Spouse of Artist(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is an organization whose goal is helping artists locate and receive proper compensation from royalties for copyrights, and in return Plaintiff takes 50% of the money received. When Huey "Piano" Smith became dissatisfied with Plaintiff's services, he purported to unilaterally cancel the agreement and transfer some of the salvaged copyrights to his wife, presumably to decrease assets susceptible to judgment. The court held Smith had no legal right to terminate the contract as he did and his attempted assignment is annulled. Smith's legal problems continued in "Who Gets 'Piano' Smith's Money?." - LSW


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19. ZZ Top Copy Old Blues Band?
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1995
Plaintiffs Nightcaps
Defendants ZZ Top
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description ZZ Top were sued by a 1950s and 60s band, The Nightcaps, for plagiarizing a song "Thunderbird". ZZ Top admitted that their version of the song, released in 1975, was sonically identical to the late, unlamented Nightcaps' version. ZZ Top was granted summary judgment due to preemption of all claims by federal statutes and the running of the statute of limitations. In an opinion full of musical puns, the appellate court affirmed the summary judgment finding that The Nightcaps knew in 1981 of ZZ Top's version. - JMC


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20. LL Cool J Owes Promoter Bigtime
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1993
Plaintiffs Music Promoter(s)
Defendants LL Cool J
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff advanced LL Cool J $337,000 in anticipation of his 1989 "Nitro Tour," after his big successes in the mid/late 1980s but before his biggest album, "Mama Said Knock You Out." The tour was not as financially successful as the parties expected, and, with only two weeks remaining on the tour, the two parties settled to prevent litigation. Under the settlement, LL was to play more shows and recoup the $250,000 still owed from the advance, but if not, he would owe the money out of pocket. Following the conclusion of the initial tour, LL played no more shows; Plaintiff sued. The trial court found for Plaintiffs, saying the contract was unambiguous and LL owed the money. The appellate court affirmed, finding LL in breach, and denying his defenses of duress and lack of consideration. The District Court was affirmed entirely. - LSW


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