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1. Roky Sues Indy for Acting Like a Major
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Erickson, Roky
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Independent Label Collective
Mermis, "Long Gone John"
Sympathy for the Record Industry
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Roky Erickson, the infamous lead singer for the early psychedelic band, The 13th Floor Elevators, whose subsequent struggles with mental illness have been well documented, had a decent comeback in the first decade of the 2000s. In this case, Erickson, along with a co-writer, sued several entities well-known in the independent music world, including Sympathy for the Record Industry and its founder, Long Gone John, for breach of contract, fraud, and copyright infringement, arising from Defendants' nonpayment of royalties and failure to render an accounting. The court found in Plaintiffs' favor for around $80,000, which Defendants refused to pay. Plaintiffs levied property owned by Long Gone John, and received their judgment, but sued for attorneys' fees incurred in securing the judgment. John argued several theories for why Plaintiffs should not receive compensation, including that they should have engaged in settlement negotiations instead of trying so hard to obtain the judgment John was refusing to pay. The court, clearly, disagreed, and Plaintiffs were awarded $35,000 in attorneys' fees. - LSW


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2. Kanye Cleared of Copying
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Monopoly, John
Rock-A-Fella Records
UMG Records
West, Kanye
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description It is common in the hip hop industry for demo-tape submissions to cause lawsuits, often because the submitter believes recipients ripped off the songs sent in; such cases are normally entirely frivolous. The allegations in this case are a bit more convincing, though the complaint was, in the end, dismissed. Plaintiff is a songwriter who communicated with Kanye West's producer and record label executive, John Monopoly, who agreed to act as Plaintiff's executive producer for an upcoming recording. Among the songs transmitted to Monopoly was a song called "Stronger," which employed the classic cliche, "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger," rhymed with a line about not waiting any "longer" and the word "wronger" (which is grammatically-correct). When West released an immensely-popular song employing this same rhyming trio, Plaintiff sued for copyright infringement. Though the court found both that West had ample opportunity to hear Plaintiff's song and that the above-mentioned elements of the songs were indeed similar, and furthermore that both songs contained an odd reference to Kate Moss, none of the similarities pertained to protectable (e.g. copyrightable) elements. Thus, even if West did indeed copy Plaintiff's song, the elements copied included a common public domain maxim and several obvious rhyming words. Plaintiff was unable to show "fragmented literal similarity," a doctrine accepted in some circuits, because West's song contained no identical phrases to Plaintiff's. Since the musical accompaniment in the two songs were very different, the lyrics were the only feasible basis for Plaintiff's complaint. Therefore, Plaintiff's case failed. - LSW


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3. Lil' Wayne's Co-Author Sues
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Banner, David
Deezle
Royalty Collector(s)
Defendants Film Distributor(s)
Film Studio(s)
Video/DVD Distributor(s)
Other Lil' Wayne
Short Description Plaintiffs include two hip-hop songwriters and producers, David Banner and Deezle, both of whom have worked, at various times, with Dwayne Carter, better known as Lil' Wayne. This lawsuit stemmed from a concert Lil' performed to be released as a film and DVD, called "The Carter." Lil' granted to Defendants the rights to use various songs he co-authored with Plaintiffs, for reproduction in the film and associated merchandise. Plaintiffs sued, alleging Lil's company, Young Money Entertainment, had no power to grant the licenses to the songs, because it was a not a copyright co-owner; the company listed on the copyright registration was Young Money Publishing. If Young Money did not have the ability to grant a license, Defendants' film infringed Plaintiffs' rights. However, held the court, the different Young Money entities were all companies through which Lil' Wayne himself acted, and Wayne could validly grant a license if he saw fit. Thus, Defendants had valid license. While Plaintiffs were most likely owed royalties from the production, this was a not an issue in the instant suit, which alleged infringement, not royalty nonpayment. Based on the facts before the court, Defendants' summary judgment was granted. - LSW


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4. No Name vs. 50, Game, Dre., Etc.
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Black Wall Street Records
Game (The)
Interscope Records
Music Publisher(s)
UMG Records
Universal Music Group
Warner-Chappell Music
Other 50 Cent
Che Pope
Dr. Dre
Mike Elizondo
The Madd Rapper
Short Description Anyone who has perused this website for any length of time will probably be aware of how common it is in the hip-hop industry for "demo tape Plaintiffs" (as The Discography likes to call them) to sue artists, record labels, publishers (everyone involved in production of a rap song) for copying songs Plaintiffs sent in or, perhaps, played once or twice for one of the many people involved in writing, recording, and releasing some uber-popular urban hit. In this case, Plaintiffs wrote a song called "Elevator" in 2002, which contained the hook "This Is How We Do." The song was recorded but never released, distributed, or provided to the public in any way. It was, however, included on a demo tape the Plaintiffs used to shop for a record deal, which they purportedly played for some people in the industry. When Jayceon Taylor, a.k.a., The Game, released a song called "This Is How We Do," co-written by 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, and Mike Elizondo, Plaintiffs sued for copyright infringement. In arguing their case, they pointed out that, as an employee of Sam Ash Music, one of the Plaintiffs had met Che Pope, a producer who has previously worked with Fitty, Dre, Game, and others on different songs. Pope was allegedly a regular customer, and Plaintiffs played their songs for him at the store; Pope, however, does not remember meeting them. Based on these facts, the court refused Defendants' motions for summary judgment. The court found that Plaintiffs had alleged facts sufficient to raise the question of whether Defendants had access, through their connection with Pope, to Plaintiff's "Elevator." Further, both sides presented expert musicologist witnesses (Defendants' was Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, a common expert for industry parties) regarding the similarity of the songs and how common the similar elements were in the industry. Summary judgments denied. - LSW


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5. Songwriter: "Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!" (III)
Highest Court D. Massachusetts
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Bon Jovi
Boston Red Sox
Individual(s)
Lawyer(s)
Major League Baseball
Music Manager(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Sports Organization(s)
TBS, Inc.
Television Producer(s)
Time Warner, Inc.
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This is the third installment in Plaintiff's litigation campaign, brought against Bon Jovi, the Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball, TBS, Inc., and numerous other entities and individuals, in which Plaintiff alleged a Bon Jovi song about the Boston Red Sox, used by the Boston Red Sox, copied his earlier-released song about the same team. In the first suit, "Songwriter: 'Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!' (I)," the court found there was no substantial similarity between Plaintiff's song and the alleged infringement. He sued once again under the Digital Millennium Copyright act, and lost (see Songwriter: 'Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!' (II)"). In this case, Plaintiff brought suit against many of the same parties, but also included some new ones, alleging mostly identical claims. The court dismissed Plaintiff's action this time as well. The outcome would not be stayed awaiting appeal in his first suit, and the claims brought herein were so close (even if not identical) to the first suit, and the parties all could have been sued the first time around, that Plaintiff's suit was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Even if he adjusted his action slightly, it was not so different that it should not have been brought the first time. Plaintiff was not sanctioned, however, but only admonished. - LSW


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6. Reel Tight vs. Usher
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Arista Records
Cox, Bryan-Michael
Dupri, Jermaine
EMI April Music
La Face Records
Music Publisher(s)
So So Def Records
Sony Music
Usher
Zomba Records
Other Reel Tight
Short Description The R&B group, Reel Tight, had a brief and dim limelight in the late 1990s, when they signed to Warren G's record label, G-Funk, an imprint of Restless Records; made guest appearances on various Warren G-related songs; and released one album in 1999. In this lawsuit, over ten years after Reel Tight's last release, one of the band's members--purportedly the band's songwriter--sued Usher, Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox, and numerous other music entities, alleging Usher's song "Burn" infringed the Reel Tight jam, "No More Pain." This court opinion involved the admissibility of Plaintiff's expert witness, a musicologist, who had been retained by Plaintiff on a contingency basis. In California, as in some other states, expert witnesses whose compensation is based on the outcome of the case are barred from testifying, on the grounds that their testimony is tainted by their inherent interest in the outcome of the suit. The court found this public policy rationale applicable to the instant facts, and barred Plaintiff's expert witness. - LSW


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7. Ex-Recording Artist vs. Usher and Alicia
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Arista Records
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Dre & Vidal
Dupri, Jermaine
EMI April Music
EMI Music
Film Studio(s)
Hitco Music
Keys, Alicia
La Face Records
Music Executive(s)
Music Manager(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Songwriter(s)
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Sony Music
Sony/ATV Music
Toby, Ryan
Universal Music
Usher
Zomba Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The facts of this immense lawsuit--which involves numerous defendants--are somewhat unique. Oftentimes, unknown artists sue huge companies and successful artists alleging copyright infringement, usually with little-to-no evidence that the defendants ever knew of the plaintiff or plaintiff's songs. In this case, Plaintiff was a songwriter and recording artist who signed briefly with Alicia Key's record label, a subsidiary of J Records, and began recording songs to be released. After some of the songs were finished, the record label offered to buy some of her songs for use with other artists on the label, such as Usher. Plaintiff, recognizing that the agreements would divest her of all royalty and ownership rights--she'd be a "ghost writer"--refused the deal. According to Plaintiff, Defendants nevertheless used her songs on Usher's album, "Confessions," as well as with other artists on the label's roster. Unfortunately for Plaintiff, her song, "Caught Up," which was one that Defendants wanted to use, was nothing like the Usher song of the same name. The court compared both lyrics and melody between the two songs and found that, despite Plaintiff's allegations and undeniable claims of access, the Usher song was not copied from Plaintiff's. Perhaps the phrase "caught up" was copied, but that in-and-of-itself was insufficient to comprise copyright infringement. With the sole federal claim dismissed, the court declined jurisdiction over the remaining state claims, and Plaintiff's action was disposed of entirely. - LSW


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8. Get "Off My Grind," Says Plaintiff
Highest Court D. New Jersey
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Defendants A&M Records
Blige, Mary J.
EMI Music
Geffen Records
Interscope Records
Jay-Z
Jerkins, Rodney "Darkchild"
Music Producer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Universal Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description As in many similar lawsuits, Plaintiffs are unknown singer/songwriters whose song "On My Grind," was allegedly copied by Mary J. Blige and a long assortment of related parties (producers, record labels, publishers) in Blige's song "Enough Cryin'." Defendants initially sought to dismiss for improper service. The court held service was indeed improper, but granted Plaintiff an extension for proper service. Later, however, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, stating Plaintiff insufficiently plead personal jurisdiction over Defendants. The court held that--even though Plaintiffs appeared pro se and thus are given additional leeway, as with their service of process issues--Plaintiffs had not pointed to activities by Defendant in the forum to justify jurisdiction, not even according to the somewhat-expansive "stream of commerce" theory of liability. - LSW


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9. Republican Copies Henley Tunes
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Campbell, Mike
Henley, Don
Kortchmar, Danny
Defendants Political Campaign and/or Committee(s)
Politician(s)
Other Eagles
Petty, Tom (and the Heartbreakers)
Short Description Artists Don Henley (Eagles) and Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), and songwriter Danny Kortchmar, sued politician Charles Devore for using Henley's melodies as a basis for the melodies used in the Defendants' campaign ads. Defendant, of course, claimed "fair use," but the court found this not to be the case; the distinction between satire and a parody, the latter poking fun at the author or the original work, decides the case. This is satire; Henley was not the subject of the joke. Copyright infringement, no fair use. - LSW


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10. Songwriter: "Neptunes Copied Me!"
Highest Court D. Connecticut
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Arista Records
Neptunes
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Williams, Pharrell
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Pharrell and the Neptunes released a song entitled "I'm Frontin'," which Plaintiffs claim was copied from their own song, "Frontin'," and the District Court dismissed the case, holding the two songs could not be found substantially similar. The name, which is among their only purported similarities is merely a "hip hop idiom." Plaintiffs' motion in reply to Defendants' motion to dismiss alleged issues of fact and cited expert testimony in their favor, but left nothing substantive to be decided; the court held their allegations were either immaterial or undisputed. - LSW


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11. Trans-Siberian Copyright
Highest Court M.D. Florida
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Visual Artist(s)
Defendants Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description U.S.-based artist was allegedly hired by Trans-Siberia Orchestra to design an album cover, into which he incorporated an illustrated guitar wrapped in roses, an image that has been re-used in various forms by the band. Plaintiff sued both the band and the designer responsible for many of the alleged infringements; the latter moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing he had insufficient contacts with Florida. The court held for the Defendant designer, dismissing the complaint as to him. However, when Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to include Spiderwebart, the company for which Defendant completed his work, the court found personal jurisdiction. - LSW


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12. Mike Love's Long Fight With Brian
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Newspaper Publisher(s)
Sanctuary Management
Sanctuary Records
Website Proprietor(s)
Wilson, Brian
Other Beach Boys
Short Description Mike Love sued Brian Wilson after Wilson released a successful album in 2004, Smile, with solo versions of Beach Boys songs and new solo material. Wilson went on tour in Great Britain, among other places, to promote his new album. Part of the promotion for Wilson's album and tour was a CD distributed by the British newspaper the Mail on Sunday containing some of his new material. Only 425 of those CDs were distributed in the U.S., and only 18 of those were distributed in California. Meanwhile, Love was touring on his own as The Beach Boys in Great Britain. Love was concerned that Wilson's tour would dampen his ticket sales and brought the present lawsuit. The court entered judgment for Wilson, holding that the court did not have personal jurisdiction over the British company that licensed and recorded the CD. The court also declined to apply the Lanham Act extraterritorially to encompass acts solely committed in Great Britain. [early suits are all jurisdiction, but later suits each address different issues] - SKR


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13. Songwriter: "Fat Joe Stole My Thunder!"
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Motown Records
Universal Music Group
Other Fat Joe
Short Description After Fat Joe released his successful rap song "Lean Back" in the summer of 2004, he was sued by Plaintiff for infringing his song, which also happened to be named "Lean Back". The court held that Plaintiff could not prove that Fat Joe and his record company infringed his copyright to the song, since he could not demonstrate that Fat Joe had access to his song before Fat Joe released his rendition of "Lean Back". Fat Joe's motion for summary judgment was granted. - SKR


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14. Producer: "Everyone Ripped Me Off!"
Highest Court D. District of Columbia
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Music Retailer(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Atlantic Records
Atlantic Records
Baby/Birdman
Banks, Lloyd
Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Brandy
Cash Money Records
Dash, Damon
Def Jam Music Group
Ertegun, Ahmet
Fat Joe
G-Unit
Individual(s)
Interscope Records
Jay-Z
Juvenile
Legend, John
Lil' Wayne
Ludacris
MTV Networks
Paramount Pictures
Professional Athlete(s)
Reid, L.A.
Rock-A-Fella Records
T.I.
Talent Agent(s)
Turner, Ted
UMG Records
Universal Music Group
VH-1
Viacom
Warner Music Group
Warner-Chappell Music
West, Kanye
Ying Yang Twins
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff sued 45 industry defendants, including 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Fat Joe, and others for copyright infringement of songs he had sent to the labels for review. The Plaintiff had previously bought an educational CD made by a division of Universal, which explained how to succeed in music. After failing to serve most of the defendants, the defendant continued to file "baseless motions" and disregarded the Court's order to submit the list of infringed works as well as CDs containing his stolen music. The Court explained how copyright law works, dissecting the amateurish arguments of the Defendant. Essentially, every alleged theft was based on unprotectible elements, i.e. his "stolen song" and the defendant's song would both be about upset, urban young males. This was the case for every one of the fourteen songs. - JMC


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15. Pro Se Plaintiff vs. Wyclef and Jerry
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Columbia Records
Duplessis, Jerry
Jean, Wyclef
Music Publisher(s)
Sony Music
Sony/ATV Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description An unknown songwriter, acting "pro se," sued Wyclef Jean (of Fugees fame) and superstar songwriter/producer Jerry Duplessis, alleging the duo copied her copyrighted song in theirs, though the courts' opinions do not explain which songs were involved. Regardless, it appears Plaintiffs' actions were quite unfounded, and the trial was a bit of a circus. The Second Circuit found no error in the trial court's judgment, including, inter alia, the correctness in denying Plaintiff the opportunity to "sing at trial the unique melodic lyrical chorus" she claimed was common between the songs, and the correctness of allowing Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, a commonly utilized expert musicologist, to testify at trial. After the holding was upheld, the Eastern District of New York granted attorneys fees to Defendants, finding that "Plaintiff's position was both factually and legally unreasonable," and that Plaintiff actually misled the court. To both compensate Defendants and deter parties like Plaintiff, the court granted $63,095.60 in fees. - LSW


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16. Songwriter: "Dame Mi Gasolina!"
Highest Court E.D. Louisiana
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Daddy Yankee
Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records
Music Manufacturer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Universal Music Group
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description As commonly occurs, Plaintiff, an unknown songwriter, sued Defendant, a well-known music star, for copyright infringement of Plaintiff's song, although the only noticeable similarity between the two tunes was the name. Defendants include Daddy Yankee, the godfather of reggaeton and author of the song "Gasolina," and the various record labels and music companies associated with the song's release. Plaintiff is a New Orleans-based songwriter who wrote a song with the same name that sold less than 2,000 copies and received limited airplay on a local radio station. Further, Plaintiff alleged he gave a copy of the CD to a Cuban group called Maraca, which is influential in New York and Puerto Rico, where Yankee is well-known. The court found that Plaintiff's allegations did not adequately indicate Yankee had "access" to the work, and, further, than the songs were not substantially similar, other than the name, which was not copyrightable. Defendant's summary judgment was granted. - LSW


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17. Raps About Pac Too Similar?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records
Universal Music
Universal Music Group
Other Hamilton, Anthony
Jadakiss
Short Description Plaintiff is an unknown songwriter and hip-hop artist, alleging that Jadakiss and Anthony Hamilton infringed Plaintiff's song, "Thugz Prayer," in Defendants' song, "Why." Both songs deal with the untimely deaths of 2pac, Notorious B.I.G., and Aaliyah, and both songs repeat the word "why" in doing so. Plaintiff brought numerous causes of action, not just copyright infringement, including trademark-related claims. The court held that all but the copyright infringement claim were either preempted by the Copyright Act or, as with the trademark claims, foreclosed by Supreme Court decisions differentiating between copyright and trademark actions. Furthermore, the copyright infringement claim fell short. Both Plaintiff and Defendants' song involve issues in the public consciousness, the death of certain celebrities, and commentary on that subject cannot be protected by copyright. Asking "why," in relation to their deaths is equally unprotectible. The court refused to find "comprehensive non-literal similarity," because Plaintiff failed to demonstrate the "fundamental essence or structure" of his work or how Defendant copied that essence or structure. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings was granted, though Plaintiff was given time to amend his complaint. - LSW


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18. Improper Service on Usher & Dupri
Highest Court M.D. Tennessee
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Dupri, Jermaine
Usher
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This case is brief and unspectacular. Plaintiff is an unknown songwriter alleging that Usher and Jermaine Dupri infringed one of her songs. Though the court found Plaintiff's complaint stated facts sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, she did not adequately serve either Defendant with process. She sent service to Usher's fan mail address, not any abode or business, and the service sent to Dupri was signed by someone who was not Dupri's agent. The court granted Plaintiff an additional sixty days to serve Defendants properly. - LSW


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19. Kanye & Jigga-Man Copied?
Highest Court D. Maryland
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs D'Mystro
Defendants Island Def Jam Music Group
Jay-Z
UMG Records
Universal Music Group
West, Kanye
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is unknown artist named D'Mystro whose song "Volume of the Good Life" was allegedly sampled and infringed by West in his song "Good Life. Plaintiff allegedly met with West and Jay-Z and had friended them on MySpace. The court found "access," but did not find similarity. The court, however felt Defendants needed a little more proof to warrant summarily dismissing Plaintiff's claims on a motion for summary judgment, so it denied their motion without prejudice. - LSW


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20. Country Artists Accused of Copying
Highest Court M.D. Tennessee
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Defendants Curb Records
Gallimore, Byron
McGraw, Tim
Music Publisher(s)
Stroud, James
Wiseman, Craig
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff was the composer of a song entitled "Anytime, Anywhere, Amanda," inspired by his friendship with a former Miss Texas, Amanda Little. When country superstar Tim McGraw released a song called "Everywhere" on an album of the same name, Plaintiff sued, alleging McGraw copied Plaintiff's song in his composition, requesting relief under copyright and trademark, requesting declaratory judgment, damages, and equitable remedies. Plaintiff argued McGraw had access to Plaintiff's song because another recording artist had used another of Plaintiff's song on an album recorded at the studio where McGraw recorded "Everywhere." Plaintiff unsuccessfully sought a "gag order" (though he didn't call it that) preventing McGraw from speaking to the media about the case, after McGraw responded to questions by media outlet TMZ.com. The court found this request outlandish. Further, the whole case was disposed of on McGraw's summary judgment. The declaratory judgment of infringement was not yet ripe, and, further, Plaintiff's alleged proof of "access" was tenous and insufficient, and no evidence of substantial similarity between the songs was provided. McGraw was victorious on all counts. - LSW


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