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1. Yodeling for Royalties
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Antone's Records
Music Executive(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Walser, Don
Watermelon Records
Short Description Country musician Don Walser, known for his distinctive yodeling, signed an agreement with Watermelon Records, a little-known Austin-based country music record label, in 1994, only four years before the label went bankrupt and its assets were purchased by Defendant, Antone's Records, who, as luck would have it, later filed for bankruptcy itself. The latter bankruptcy underlies this dispute, brought by Walser's estate and family, alleging various causes of action against Antone's and associated entities, including breach of contract and fiduciary duties, fraud, and copyright infringement, requesting rescission, constructive trust, and piercing of the corporate veil. According to the court, it is undisputed that Defendants failed to tender appropriate royalties and royalty-statements to Walser, after assuming Watermelon's contracts. Though Plaintiffs were unable to state claims arising from Watermelon Records' bankruptcy and failure to pay Walser, the court allowed breach of contract claims against Defendants arising from their own failure to pay. The court found that Walser had performed fully under the agreement, but that Defendants plainly failed to live up to their part of the bargain, and did not cure their breach within 30 days of being warned by Walser's attorney; in this regard, Defendants were liable for around $30,000. Because monetary remedies were adequate, rescission of the fully-performed contract was not allowed, and, further, Plaintiff's claims for fraud and copyright infringement failed too. Further still, Plaintiffs were unable to show that any form of fiduciary relationship arose between Walser and the various record labels with whom he was contractually tied, inter alia, because Texas law has not found such a relationship between artist and label, and no relationship of trust otherwise existed. The court refused to hold the record labels' executives personally liable, finding that traditional doctrines like the "alter ego" test did not apply. Though most claims were denied, the contract breach claim resulted in a $30,000 award. - LSW


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2. Grandma Run Over by a Copyright?
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Shropshire, Elmo "Dr. Elmo"
Defendants Individual(s)
Other Brooks, Randy
Irish Rovers
Trigg, Patsy
Short Description Elmo Shropshire, better known as Dr. Elmo, is a comedic singer who most famously sang "Grandma Got Runover By a Reindeer," a song written by Randy Brooks, with his then-wife Patsy Trigg, in 1979. After a Canadian citizen, Defendant, uploaded a video onto YouTube featuring a re-recording of the song by a Canadian folk group, The Irish Rovers, synchronized to images of reindeer, Dr. Elmo contacted YouTube and requested the video be taken down, saying it constituted copyright infringement of the song Elmo co-owned. After Defendant submitted his counter-notice alleging his actions were "fair use," and YouTube sided with Defendant, Elmo sued YouTube and Defendant. He soon dismissed YouTube but maintained his action against Defendant, alleging copyright infringement and misrepresentation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the latter based upon Defendant's counter-notice to YouTube. The court held, first, that no copyright infringement could be maintained because all the allegedly infringing activities took place in Canada. Regarding the DMCA, the court found that Defendant's compliance with DMCA takedown procedure conferred personal jurisdiction over Defendant, but that Plaintiff failed to specify any specific misrepresentations, and that Elmo's failure to join his ex-wife, Patsy, constituted a failure to join necessary parties. Though Plaintiff's DMCA claim was dismissed, he was allowed time to amend his complaint to address the deficiencies. - LSW


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3. 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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4. Erre XI vs. Luny and Yankee
Highest Court D. Massachusetts
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Music Producer(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Daddy Yankee
El Cartel Records
LT's Benjamin Records
Luny Tunes
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Universal Music Group
Other Erre XI
Short Description Plaintiffs are a group a songwriters and producers who were, in various ways, involved in the songwriting or production of the album, "Luny Tunes Presents: Erre XI," which was an album, released by reggaeton production duo Luny Tunes, featuring a musical duo called Erre XI, which was assembled by Luny Tunes. Plaintiffs, based in Springfield, MA, were tapped by Luny Tunes to participate in the album's creation, and were flown to Puerto Rico to embark on the creative process. Plaintiffs allege that their work was not only central to the Erre XI album, but also an album by Daddy Yankee, and that, not only were they not paid appropriate royalties, but their work was falsely attributed to Yankee and Tunes. Plaintiffs alleged multiple causes of action against multiple defendants, including copyright infringement and vicarious infringement, infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. In this opinion, the court denied Universal's motion to dismiss the emotional distress, vicarious infringement, and breach of contract claims, finding Plaintiffs' claims sufficient to require additional fact-finding. However, Daddy Yankee, and his associated parties, were held not to be within the personal jurisdiction of the court (specific or general), which refused to "pierce the corporate veil" and find Yankee's corporate activities were attributable to Yankee personally. - LSW


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5. Daddy Yankee Back in Court
Highest Court D. Puerto Rico
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Daddy Yankee
El Cartel Records
Record Label(s)
Defendants UMG Records
Universal Music Group
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Reggaeton mastermind, Daddy Yankee, and his associated music companies, reached a distribution deal with Universal Music, for a limited term of years. After the license term expired, Yankee's parties (Plaintiffs) informed Universal's entities (Defendants) that it had expired and ordered Defendants to cease distributing the albums subject to the license. When Defendants failed to do so, Plaintiffs brought the instant cause of action, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, copyright infringement, and other claims. The court held that, regarding the albums that were properly registered with the Copyright Office, Plaintiffs' copyright claims could proceed, but that state law claims, such as unjust enrichment, were preempted to the extent they sought the same relief sought in the copyright claims. However, Plaintiffs were granted time to amend their complaint accordingly. - LSW


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6. Salsa Rap Goes to Court
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Music Producer(s)
Universal Music Group
Other Nieves, Tito
White, Barry
Short Description Plaintiff was an unknown songwriter who penned rap lyrics for a Tito Nieves version of Barry White's song, "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More Baby." Tito Nieves is a well-known salsa singer who apparently experimented with including rap influences in his music during the early 1990s, when Plaintiff wrote the lyrics at issue in this suit. When Plaintiff provided the lyrics to Nieves's producer, a Defendant in this suit, the producer asked Plaintiff to sign certain documents pertaining to ownership and compensation, but Plaintiff refused. In the 20-ish years since Plaintiff wrote the lyrics, the song was released on at least two different albums, copyrighted to Defendant Universal Music. Plaintiff sued for copyright infringement, which the court interpreted as a claim for co-ownership of the song. Either way, said the court, this case was barred by the statute of limitations. Even taking the last possible date of accrual, in 2004, when Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to Defendant about his claims, the lawsuit was brought over 5 years later, outside the Copyright Act's three year limitation. - LSW


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7. Marley Artist: "Don't Use My Art!"
Highest Court D. Massachusetts
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Visual Artist(s)
Defendants Fifty-Six Hope Road Music
Music Publisher(s)
Zion Rootswear
Other Marley, Bob
Short Description An artist who created three images of Bob Marley sued Marley's estate and other associated entities for copyright infringement, when the images were used on T-shirts and other merchandise. Plaintiff alleges an earlier licensing agreement did not grant ownership in the images, and the current uses were infringement. Despite claims that Plaintiff put off bringing a lawsuit out of respect for Marley, the court held the suit time-barred for not being brought within the statutory period. - LSW


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8. Who Gets Roger Miller's Rights?
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Sony/ATV Music
Other Miller, Roger
Short Description The wife of deceased Roger Miller sued his music publisher for royalties and was granted renewal copyright interest notwithstanding agreements between the parties. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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9. Latin Songs Sold Without License
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs EMI Entertainment
Harry Fox Agency
Defendants Karen Records
Other Aguilar, Grover Walter Leon
Berti, Vico
Favio, Leonardo
Mano, Nacho
Sanz, Alejandro
Short Description The Defendant is a Latino music recording company. This case involved the licenses to four songs granted by a large mechanical licensing company. The publisher later terminated the licenses due to a lack of payments. The same parties had been involved in prior copyright infringement, and as part of the settlement, the publisher audited the Defendant's books, finding over $500,000 in unpaid royalties. After more rounds of litigation, this current suit was filed, as the Plaintiff alleged that the publisher had again terminated the licenses. The Defendant claimed it had valid licenses and argued the suit was barred by procedural hurdles. The Court found the Defendant had acquired the licenses, although there were some harmless defects in the licensing requests. The Court declined to answer whether a license could be denied if there were unpaid prior licenses, but found that the licenser acted as an agent of the Plaintiff, a publishing company. The licenses can easily be terminated for failure to pay royalties. The Court also found that the three-year statute of limitations, which does not fall under a continuing harm theory, would not bar claims for sales of albums made before that cut-off. The Court also rejected the Defendant's argument that the Plaintiff waived all claims by accepting royalty payments for other claims and that the history of litigation between the two parties stopped the Defendant from claiming a defense of laches. The Defendant later attempted to have the default reconsidered but was denied because it inappropriately raised new arguments. - JMC


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10. Songwriter: "Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!" (I)
Highest Court D. Massachusetts
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants A&E Television
Bon Jovi
Boston Red Sox
Fox Broadcasting
Individual(s)
Island Def Jam Records
Major League Baseball
Music Publisher(s)
Sony/ATV Music
TBS, Inc.
Television Producer(s)
Time Warner, Inc.
Universal Music
Universal-Polygram Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Just prior to the Boston Red Sox's 2004 World Series win, Plaintiff composed a song called "Man I Really Love This Team," about the Sox, that gained popularity at Fenway Park and among the team's fans. Though Plaintiff wrote a derivative song from his first, called "Man I Really Love This Town," it was not copyrighted alongside the original. After the Red Sox won the series again in 2007, television station TBS aired a commercial about the Sox, featuring a song by Bon Jovi called "I Love This Town." Plaintiff sued everyone involved in the production and airing of the commercial, alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition under the Lanham Act, and several state law claims. His copyright claims were based on what he called "temp tracking," wherein the original song is used to produce an audiovisual work (e.g. the commercial), which is then used to create a new song (e.g., the Jovi tune). Thus, the final song may not have directly copied the original song, but indirectly. The court quickly held that this sort of action could not be based in the Lanham Act and that the state claims were preempted by the Copyright Act. On Defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court found that there was no musical or lyrical similarity between Plaintiff's "I Love This Team" and Defendants' song. Since Plaintiff never copyrighted "I Love This Town," it was not considered in the court's analysis. Furthermore, Plaintiff's "temp tracking" theory did not impress the court; there was vastly more similarities between Defendants' song and the TBS promo than between Plaintiff's song and the promo. After this ruling, Plaintiff moved for an entry of default against some of Defendants who had not answered his complaint, which the court denied; not only were the defaulting parties not named in the original complaint, but default would prejudice them. This holding was denied rehearing. Plaintiff did not give up; see also "Songwriter: 'Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!' (II)" and "Songwriter: 'Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!' (III)" - LSW


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11. D4L Copy Three-Note Riff?
Highest Court N.D. Georgia
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Asylum Records
Atlantic Records
D4L
Smith, Teriyakie
Warner-Elektra-Atlantic
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The hip-hop group D4L is probably best known for their infectious hit song, "Laffy Taffy," though they've had an otherwise notable career, including the song at issue in this lawsuit, 2006's "Betcha Can't Do It Like Me." Plaintiff is a songwriter, former member of an unknown rap group called the Woodlawn Click, acting through his record label and music publisher, alleging that D4L copied his song "Come Up," which was distributed and performed around the Atlanta area and even appeared in an Atlanta-themed hip-hop movie called "Dirty South," which was never commercially released. D4L, it should be noted, are based in Atlanta. Defendants argued that they never heard the song, never saw the movie, and thus had no access. The allegedly similar melody between the two songs was written by their own producer, Teriyakie Smith, merely by playing three adjacent keys on his keyboard. Defendants were unable to exclude Plaintiff's expert musicologist, because the court found his methodology passed the "Daubert" test for expert witnesses. However, Defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted. Though D4L may have had access to Plaintiff's song, and the songs were indeed substantially similar, Defendants provided uncontroverted evidence of "independent creation." After all, in the words of Teriyakie Smith, "the keys on the [computer] keyboard were right beside each other. And that's how the tune came about." Sounds convincing. Defendants' summary judgment granted. - LSW


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12. Which Grupo Bryndis is Legit?
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Grupo Bryndis
Short Description Grupo Bryndis is an internationally-known Mexican musical group that has existed in some form continuously since 1983. Plaintiffs in this case are the band's recognized leader and the corporation he controls. Despite the band's successes, it appears no one had ever applied for and received a federal trademark for their name. Defendants are former members of the group who formed a new band, initially called Bohemios de Bryndis, that later began billing itself as Grupo Bryndis, and then filed a trademark application for the name. Plaintiff sued for numerous trademark- and property-related causes of action, requesting a preliminary injunction preventing the band from using the name further. The court found that, despite the confusion that might occur among the band's fans due to two different bands using the same name, monetary damages were sufficient to remedy any harm done to Plaintiff, and thus a preliminary injunction, which requires irreparable harm causing damage that cannot be cured by adequate remedies at law, was inappropriate. - LSW


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13. Avengers Want Vengeance
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Avengers
Defendants Music Executive(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The Avengers were a first-wave American punk rock band, active in the late 1970s in San Francisco, where they famously opened for the Sex Pistols at the Pistols' last show. The Avengers' lead singer, Penelope Houston, had a rather impressive solo career thereafter, releasing several major label albums during the 1990s. This case concerns the distribution of the band's retrospective, usually called "The Pink Album," which was released by Defendant's record label in the early 1990s and sold around 100,000 copies. Plaintiffs, former members of the band, alleged that Defendant never paid Plaintiffs royalties from "Pink," and that they rescinded the agreement, meaning he had no rights to distribute the recordings anymore; that Plaintiffs terminated their publishing agreements with Defendant, but Defendant continues to exploit the songs; that Defendant had no right to distribute copies of their performance from the Pistol's last show; and that Defendant made false representations to third parties in securing distribution. The band sued for copyright infringement, fraud, conversion, and various forms of declaratory relief. The court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for declaration of copyright ownership, finding they were duplicative of copyright infringement claims, but allowed the band's declaratory judgment regarding Defendant's release of their concert album, saying the claim was not preempted by the Copyright Act, but was an issue of contract. Claims for fraud were dismissed as not properly pleaded, as were claims for conversion, because no actual property was pinpointed as being converted. Plaintiffs' infringement claims were not at issue in this opinion. - LSW


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14. Israeli Rocker Stiffed by Clinton?
Highest Court W.D. Wisconsin
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Recht, Coby
Defendants MGM Pictures
Other Clinton, George
Recht, Iris
Short Description Plaintiff, Coby Recht, along with his wife, Iris Recht (who motioned to intervene after Coby's filing) are Israeli songwriters who wrote a rock opera called "The Apple," which was adopted for American release with lyrics and songs by Plaintiff and George Clinton. The movie, based on a futuristic plotline derived from the Adam and Eve story, was a failure in the U.S., perhaps due to its emphasis on disco, which by 1980 was waning in popularity. As part of the initial agreement, the Rechts supposedly transferred their copyrights interests in the movie (though not necessarily the songs), to Defendant. However, Defendant never paid all amounts promised to the Rechts, and the movie was "shelved." When Defendant re-released the movie in the 2000s on DVD, without any Recht permission, Coby Recht sued. The Wisconsin federal District Court initially found validity in Recht's claims, finding him to be a valid copyright owner who had not transferred copyrights to Defendant, and finding breach of contract claims sufficiently stated. Later, however, the court transferred the case to California, where it was found that George Clinton, as co-author along with the Rechts, had transferred his ownership interest to Defendant as a work-for-hire, even if Recht was not an employee himself. The court apparently dismissed the case with prejudice, though the reasoning isn't so clear. When Recht re-filed a similar complaint in Wisconsin, the court once again transferred the action, unable to determine if California's earlier dismissal had been on the merits. We're going back to Cali. - LSW


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15. Salsa Kings Sue Record Label
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Cruz, Bobby
Family of Artist(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Ray, Richie
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, are famed salsa musicians who supposedly repudiated their contracts with defendants after Defendants' "breached" by not paying or accounting royalties. They then sued for copyright infringement and rescission of the contract, when Defendants continued to exploit the compositions recorded under the agreement. The court found Plaintiffs were in no position the rescind contract; rescission is an equitable remedy and an extreme measure for the court to take. The contract contained no provision allowing for rescission upon underpayment of royalties, Defendants' actions were not so material as to defeat the object of the contract, and damages would be available to Plaintiffs if Defendant were in breach. Since their repudiation was invalid, there was no action for copyright infringement either. Defendants' summary judgment granted. - LSW


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16. Majors vs. Illicit Distributor
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Atlantic Records
Warner Bros. Records
Defendants Music Distributor(s)
Other Attitude
Gucci Mane
Jones, Mike
Lil' Scrappy
Plies
T.I.
Wall, Paul
Short Description The record labels responsible for releasing music by urban stars Mike Jones, Gucci Mane, Plies, T.I., Paul Wall, Lil' Scrappy, and Attitude, sued an independent music company for creating unlicensed "mixtapes." Defendant purportedly received licenses from artists' agents, and entered agreements with them in Texas. After Plaintiffs brought suit, the parties entered a settlement agreement containing a preliminary injunction, which Defendant subsequently breached by continuing distribution of infringing mixtapes. Defendant's motion to transfer venue to Texas, where its contracts were entered, was denied; while the action could have been brought there, Plaintiffs' witnesses resided in New York, and Defendant could not force its preferred venue by including Texas-based third-party Defendants of its own. Further, Plaintiffs' motion for civil contempt for granted; Defendants continued distribution of mixtapes was undertaken with minimal efforts to ensure compliance with the injunction. Plaintiffs were granted percentages of Defendant's sales equal to the percentage of the mixtapes comprised of material owned by Plaintiffs. This remedy is funny, because Defendant didn't make any money from the releases, so Plaintiffs got nothing, and their motion to reconsider the remedy was denied. Nice. - LSW


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17. Detroit Singer Sued for Own CDs
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Defendants Latimer, Charlie
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is the assignee of a collection of songs by Charlie Latimer, a Detroit-area musician whose local star-power never transferred to the national stage. When Latimer, after signing away his rights, released "Through the Years," a compilation of his songs, including some assigned to Plaintiff, Plaintiff sued. Latimer, representing himself pro se, admitted most of the charges, but cried duress. While the court found he had not properly stated his duress defense, it referred Latimer's cause to the Michigan Trial Lawyers Pro Bono Program. - LSW


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18. 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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19. Who Owns Skynyrd Film Footage?
Highest Court N.D. Ohio
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Stage Hand(s)
Defendants Film Producer(s)
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is a stagehand for many famous bands, relevant here, including Lynyrd Skynyrd. Plaintiff filmed backstage in 1976 and 1977, and licensed use of the reels of film in a documentary about the band, with $2,500 up front and $2,500 if the film is incorporated, followed by a 2.5% royalty of the film's net profits. Following the deal, Defendants used the film in additional projects, including live videos and advertisements, and Plaintiff sued for nonpayment of royalties regarding these uses. The court held the contract was susceptible to multiple interpretations as to whether the license granted all uses or just use in the documentary. Issues of fact exist; no summary judgment granted. - LSW


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20. Moments Owe Plaintiff Moneys?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Moments
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Rhino Records
Robinson, Sylvia
Sanctuary Records
Sugar Hill Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is a songwriter who provided the Moments' producer with a song to be recorded in 1977, but when the song was not produced, Plaintiff was given back his original lyrics and told it would not be done. However, the Moments did record the song in 1980, and even though it was never released at the time, its inclusion in a box set in 1999 sparked the copyright dispute at issue. Over several court opinions, venue was found proper, the action was not barred by statutes of limitation, and several corporate Defendants' motions to dismiss were granted as to them, since Plaintiff alleged no infringement activities in the U.S. - LSW


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