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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. "My Contract's Bad And I'm Gonna Be in Trouble"
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Angels
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs are the Allbut sisters, the two backing vocalists for The Angels, who had a massive hit with "My Boyfriend's Back." The sisters had not received royalties for the recording (they didn't write it so publishing is unavailable) since they repudiated the exclusivity provision in their contract in the 1960s. The court here found that, at least regarding royalty payments due within the previous six years, the doctrine of laches did not bar the suit, because Defendants could not show prejudice on account of the delay. However, most other claims were barred by statutes of limitation. - LSW


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3. 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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4. 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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5. Early Member: "I Co-Wrote 'B.Y.O.B.!'"
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Former Band Member(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Other Amen
Scars on Broadway
System of a Down
Short Description Plaintiff is a former-friend of Daron Malakian (songwriter, guitarist and occasional singer for System of a Down, and singer for the band Scars on Broadway). Plaintiff has, at various times, been associated with the band Amen and with Scars on Broadway, Malakian's side project. Plaintiff was signed to record deal with Malakian's imprint of Columbia. However, their relationship broke down over time. Plaintiff now claims that he co-wrote "B.Y.O.B," with Malakian, which became a major hit for System of a Down. Malakian granted Plaintiff a 2% interest in the song, though not apparently because he felt there was a legal obligation of any kind. The court held that Plaintiff's depiction of the songwriting process was not credible, and that his contributions (which consisted essentially of a single reference to "fascist nations") were not independently copyrightable. Malakian wrote the song with System of a Down, not Plaintiff. Plaintiff is not an owner. - LSW


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6. Troutman Bros. Grand Finale (II)
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Ohio
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Spouse of Artist(s)
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Other Troutman, Larry
Troutman, Roger
Zapp
Short Description Plaintiff was the widow of Larry Troutman, guitarist in the band Zapp, who previously murdered his own brother, Roger Troutman, lead singer in Zapp, and then subsequently committed suicide. An immense bankruptcy case emerged from this (see "Troutman Bros. Grand Finale (I)"), but here Plaintiff sued Larry's estate to declare ownership of copyrights to works composed by her husband. The court held, however, that all of Larry's rights belong to the estate until administration, and termination/renewal rights will not vest in Plaintiff and her heirs for some time. Determining ownership requires administering Troutman's assets. - LSW


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7. 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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8. How Much for Eminem's Ringtones?
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Bass Brothers
F.B.T. Productions
Defendants Aftermath Records
Interscope Records
UMG Records
Other Eminem
Short Description This is not only an interesting lawsuit (for people who are interested in contractual interpretation issues), but an important decision for the music business, as its holding will likely be applied to the many outstanding record contracts. Plaintiffs are the production company and producers with whom Eminem originally signed exclusive production contracts. Since Em became a major record star, Plaintiffs have taken a "back seat" in his career, though they still collect royalties due to them by Em's record label, Aftermath Records, which is a subsidiary of the other Defendant record labels. According to the contracts signed between Plaintiffs and Aftermath, Plaintiffs were owed 50% of all income from licensing master recordings to third parties, and between 12-20% of income from sale of "records." Plaintiffs audited Defendants' book-keeping, and learned that they were being paid only 12-20% of the income earned through the sale of ringtones, which Defendants licensed for sale on iTunes and other related online stores. The California district court originally found the agreement between the parties was ambiguous as to whether ringtones would fall under the "Records Sold" or "Masters Licensed" provisions, and held that extrinsic evidence was allowed to aid contract interpretation. A federal jury then found for Defendants, granting them over $2 million in attorneys' fees. However, the Ninth Circuit, which is a very influential federal circuit, reversed the jury verdict and held that the district court should have granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs. The main reason for this holding was the use of the word "notwithstanding" in the "Masters Licensed" provision. Under a plain reading of the contract, the "Masters Licensed" provision guaranteed to Plaintiffs 50% of income from third-party licenses like ringtones, "notwithstanding" whether such uses would also fall within the "Records Sold" provision. In other words, the two provisions were not exclusive; it was not an either/or proposition. Since the court found the licenses granted to companies, like Apple, for ringtone sales fit within the "Masters Licensed" provision, Plaintiffs were owed appropriate royalties. The case was remanded. - LSW


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9. Obscure Disco Royalty Dispute
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Music Distributor(s)
Music Executive(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Air Power
Short Description Air Power is an obscure disco act that released several singles in 1978, each of which is subject to this dispute, that received limited-but-noteworthy public reception. Defendants are various companies--record labels, publishers, distributors--involved in the release of the singles, and the executive at their helms. Plaintiff, one of Air Power's principal songwriters, producers, and publishers, alleged that he was never paid any royalties from the original release of the songs in 1978, though one song sold around 25,000 copies within a few weeks. He sued for fraud, breach of contract, and termination of the copyrights granted to Defendants. On a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, the court found for Defendant. Plaintiff had no right to terminate the grant to Defendants, because Plaintiff was only one of two co-authors, and his co-writer did not agree to termination. Regarding the breach of contract and fraud claims, Plaintiff's case may have been successful, if only it was brought 25 years earlier. Now there's a little something called the statute of limitations. - LSW


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10. Norteno Rockeros Butt Heads
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Texas
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Martinez, Freddie
Record Label(s)
Defendants Ayala, Ram?n (y Los Bravos del Norte)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This case is somewhat sad, given that the two parties, norteno musician/three-time Grammy winner Ramon Ayala and his label manager/longtime friend Freddie Martinez, had a long-standing professional and personal relationship since the 1970s without formal written contractual agreements. Here, Martinez sued Ayala, alleging Ayala did not live up to his contractual duties; Ayala alleges he did not receive proper royalties. The court granted Ayala's non-suit injunction, thus preventing Martinez from bringing multitudinous or duplicitous lawsuits. - LSW


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11. Bay City Royalties
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Bay City Rollers
Defendants Arista Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In a case with "unprecedented facts," according to the court, Defendant record label openly admitted to not paying Plaintiffs royalties for roughly 25 years, as they were required to under a record contract signed in 1981. Plaintiffs insist that Defendant repeatedly assured Plaintiffs they would pay the money, or simply said they did not know where to send the payments, even after Plaintiff's supplied the label with contact information. Defendant, however, claims Plaintiffs' cause of action was blocked by the statute of limitations. The court here found that the statute of limitations didnot prevent Plaintiff's contract action, since the pleadings, if taken to be true, stated a cause of action. Plaintiff's claim for breach of fiduciary duty failed, however, as no fiduciary relationship existed. In a related case, former members of the group sued to be included but were denied. - LSW


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12. Did Black-Eyed Peas Have License?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Defendants Cherry River Music
Music Producer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Universal Records
Will.I.am
Other Black Eyed Peas
Sexual Harrassment
Short Description In the early 1980s, Plaintiff was a radio DJ and unsuccessful band manager, but one group, Sexual Harassment, for whom he wrote and recorded the music, sold about 100,000 copies and were later included on Old School rap compilations and, more importantly, sampled by the Black Eyed Peas in their hit song "My Humps." Defendant, the publisher of the song, paid no royalties to Plaintiff, arguing that the copyright was assigned to him, therefore requiring no payment of royalties. The court held in favor of Plaintiff, finding that copyright transfers are invalid unless in writing, and that none of Defendant's affirmative defenses were valid. - LSW


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13. Highwaymen Rob Producer?
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Moman, "Chips"
Defendants Sony BMG Music
Other Cash, Johnny
Highwaymen
Jennings, Waylon
Kristofferson, Kris
Nelson, Willie
Short Description "Chips" Moman was a songwriter/producer/performer who was hired as producer for a Willie Nelson album, and later sued Sony, with whom his production contract was entered, for non-payment of royalties. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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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. Eminem Underpaid for Ringtones?
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Licensor(s)
Music Producer(s)
Defendants Aftermath Records
Interscope Records
UMG Records
Other Eminem
Short Description Eminem's production company sued Aftermath Records (and its parent companies) for payment of royalties earned from digital downloads and ringtone sales. The dispute arise over whether the digital uses were covered by the pre-existing record contract or "master license" agreement; Defendant had been calculating the the royalties at rates according to record royalties (12-20%), while Plaintiff believed the rates should be calculated according to licensing royalties (50%) and alleged $650,000 royalties were underpaid. Plaintiff sued for breach of contract, seeking a declaratory judgment. Under California law, when the meaning of a contract is disputed and not clearly susceptible to any plain meaning, the court must look to extrinsic evidence. Because Plaintiff said the language was clear and Defendant said it wasn't, the court found issues of fact regarding interpretation of the contract must be litigated, and summary judgments were denied. After the jury returned a verdict for Aftermath. the Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated, saying summary judgment should have been granted for Plaintiff. According to the court, the language of the contract unambiguously applied licensing rates to ringtones and digital distribution, which were licenses granted to third parties, and subsequent amendments kept this agreement in tact. Aftermath owed 50% of money earned from licensing the master recordings to others for digital purposes, and extrinsic evidence should not have been allowed. - LSW


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16. Indian Song Sampled by The Game
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Record Label(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Aftermath Records
G-Unit
Interscope Records
Timbaland
Universal Music Group
Warner Bros. Music
Other Game (The)
Short Description Plaintiffs purport to own copyrights to a 1967 Indian song "Baghon Mein Bahar Hai," from the 1969 Indian film, "Aradhana," and allege that Defendants, The Game, his publisher, and record label, sampled a snippet from the song (a barely-audible "na na na" sung by the female lead). While the court found the song did indeed sample Plaintiff's recording, Plaintiff could not show ownership of the copyrights, and regardless, Defendant's use was so short, and the final song sounded so completely different from the sample recording, the court held for Defendants. - LSW


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17. More Money for Crickets & Hollies?
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs MCA Records
Defendants Family of Artist(s)
Former Band Member(s)
Spouse of Artist(s)
Other Holly, Buddy (and the Crickets)
Petty, Norman
Short Description Buddy Holly was one of the most promising of the early rock n' roll stars, writing and producing his own music, but his life was cut short by the infamously tragic plane crash in 1959 that also killed Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. In this case, brought in 1999, Holly's widow, heirs, and former members of the Crickets sued MCA Records for unpaid royalties due on contracts signed in the 1950s but amended numerous times thereafter, alleging breach of contract and fiduciary duty, as well as fraud, conversion, and more. On motions for summary judgment, the court held the contract actions not barred by the statute of limitations regarding the previous four years, but found the fraud and duty claims not actionable. The court found MCA liable for over $500,000 in unpaid royalties owed on sales since 1995. Because each royalty underpayment was an individual wrong, the court allowed Plaintiffs recovery on those within the statutory period, but did not agree with Plaintiff's "delayed discovery" argument regarding earlier underpayment. On appeal, the California court of appeals affirmed, finding all but the contract awards properly disposed. Plaintiffs' award was increased, however, since the lower court had inappropriately allowed MCA to deduct "packaging costs" according to practices enshrined in Holly's contracts, but which were long-outdated by the time the contracts were signed. MCA needed to present evidence of actual packaging costs, not industry customs with no real bearing on reality. Since MCA presented no such evidence, no packaging costs were deducted, and the award was increased by $75,000. - LSW


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18. 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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19. Marley Re-Mixer: "Music Monopoly!"
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Defendants Universal Music Group
Other Marley, Bob
Short Description Plaintiff is a re-mixer of songs who remixed certain Bob Marley compositions for the album "Roots Rocks Remixed," after obtaining a proper nonexclusive license to use the sound recordings at issue. When Plaintiff later received cease and desist letters from Universal Music Group, Plaintiff sued, claiming the letters constituted antitrust violations of Sherman Act and tortious interference with business relationships. Plaintiff sought to depose executives at Universal's headquarters and subsidiaries, and to add as new Defendants subsidiaries initially not included, such as Universal Recordings and Universal Recordings International. The court held that Plaintiff had showed depositions of new executives were relevant; authored numerous intra-office emails discussing the matter and Plaintiff's prior depositions did not provide the evidence sought. Further, despite Plaintiff's four previous complaints, amendments should be allowed to add subsidiary parties; Plaintiff was understandably uncertain, given the complex corporate arrangements of Universal and its subsidiaries, which Defendants were appropriate. - LSW


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20. Stones Tour Co. vs. Stones Merchandiser
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Music Merchandiser(s)
Other Rolling Stones
Short Description This case is a good example of how immensely popular bands must handle their activities and proprietary interests through temporary corporations. Plaintiff in this suit was a corporation created solely for to handle the Rolling Stones' 2005 tour, called "A Bigger Bang." Defendant was an outside company exclusively licensed by Plaintiff to use various trademarks, copyrights (including songs and images), and other band interests, in conjunction with smartphone campaigns. Slightly before the contract between Plaintiff and Defendant, the Stones' record label, Virgin Records, also licensed some of the exclusive properties to a third party, SanDisk, who then licensed it for Palm's PDA handheld devices. After Defendant learned of the Virgin/Palm licenses, it told Plaintiff of the breach and failed to perform under the contract. Both parties alleged breach. The trial court found the Virgin license did not violate the exclusivity of the Plaintiff/Defendant license, because the label did not license anything to another phone product, but to an allowed third party, who then licensed it to another; Plaintiff was not involved in these actions and did not authorize the SanDisk/Palm endeavor in violation of the contract. Defendant's argument that Plaintiff's warrantees of ownership were invalid could not stand, as the contract contained a clause prohibiting Defendant from challenging Plaintiff's proprietary status. On Defendant's counterclaims, however, the court denied both parties' summary judgment, saying genuine issues of fact still existed whether Plaintiff made false representations or violated an express warranty. The District Court denied both parties' motions for reconsideration, but allowed Defendant leave to amend its complaint to re-state counts relating to an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. - LSW


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