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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. Davy DMX Wants DMC Royalties
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Warner-Chappell Music
Other Def Jam Records
DMX, Davy
Run DMC
Short Description Plaintiff is a music publisher that was assigned copyright interest in Run DMC's mid-1980s output by the band's early producer, sampling progenitor Davy DMX, who also DJ'd for Kurtis Blow and produced Lovebug Starski. Davy co-authored the eight musical compositions at issue in this suit, for which Rush Groove (the music publisher loosely-associated with Def Jam Records) owed him royalty payments. At some point prior to this suit, Rush transferred its contractual duties and interests to Defendant music publisher. Defendant refused to acknowledge Davy's interest in the compositions, and did not account to Davy for profits as the contract required Rush to do. Plaintiff brought suit, requesting a declaratory judgment of co-ownership and an accounting. Defendants counterclaimed. Unfortunately, when Davy contracted with Rush, he assigned copyright ownership to Rush, and thus only retained a royalty interest. More importantly, the agreement contained a provision releasing Defendant specifically from any lawsuits arising thereunder. In other words, Plaintiff's copyright claims were insufficient, and demands for overdue payments lay not with Defendant, but with Rush, regardless whether Defendant was then obligated to pay Plaintiff's royalties. The court granted Plaintiff leave to amend its complaint to show why the entire cause of action should not be dismissed. - LSW


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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. Reggaeton Showdown
Highest Court D. Puerto Rico
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Eliel
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Daddy Yankee
El Cartel Records
Luny Tunes
Music Publisher(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Three of the biggest names in "reggaeton" music production and performance are represented in this suit, between the genre's godfather, Daddy Yankee, and producers Eliel and Luny Tunes. Eliel originally brought suit against Yankee, alleging that he was a co-author of certain Yankee songs for which he was not given proper credit. He filed a declaratory judgment action, requesting accounting. Yankee originally tried dismissing the complaint because Eliel failed to follow registration formalities, but the court held, as Plaintiff asserted, that registration is only a prerequisite for an infringement action, not declaratory judgment. The district court then denied Plaintiff's summary judgment. Though evidence supported Eliel's contentions, there were issues left to be litigated. Joint authorship requires both (1) that the two parties' contributions are independently copyrightable, and (2) that the parties intended to join their work into a final product. In this case, not enough was known about the circumstances of the song's production to rule summarily. In a later opinion, after Eliel added Luny Tunes as co-Defendant, the court dismissed Luny Tunes' counterclaims against Eliel, since they were based on earlier songs outside the limitations period and were not part of the same transaction as the songs Plaintiff sued on; the counterclaims were time-barred and, since they were not compulsory, were not tolled by the filing of Plaintiff's suit. - LSW


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10. Thin Line Between Rich and Poor
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Warner-Chappell Music
Other Cotillion Music
Persuaders
Short Description This case is an unfortunate example of what happens when parties do not act on their rights. Plaintiff is a co-writer of the 1971 hit song, "Thin Line Between Love and Hate," which was popularized by the singing group The Persuaders and covered by numerous other musicians over the years. Plaintiff signed two contracts, in 1971 and 1972, with Atlantic Records' publishing arm, Cotillion Music, the predecessor to Defendant. According to the first contract, Plaintiff assigned 50% interest in the copyright to "Thin Line" to Cotillion. Plaintiff claimed the 1972 contract cancelled the '71 transfer, but Defendant claimed it ratified the earlier agreement. In 1988, Plaintiff initiated a lawsuit against Defendant, claiming full ownership of the song. This suit eventually lost steam and was not resolved. In 1998, prior to the song's renewal term, Defendant alerted Plaintiff that it would continue to pay him 50%, as it had been, despite the good faith dispute over the song's ownership. However, when the instant suit was brought, in 2004, Plaintiff had long since lost his causes of action due to statutes of limitation. The statute began running on his original complaint in 1988, when he hired an attorney, and thus barred actions after 1991. His lawsuit regarding the renewal interest was also barred, since the three-year copyright statute of limitation would have run out in 2002, three years after the renewal period began. Either way, his current claims were barred. - LSW


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11. Parlet: P-Funk's Project
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Clinton, George
Defendants Universal Music Group
Universal Records
Other Business Entity of Artist(s)
Casablanca Records
Parlet
Parliament-Funkadelic
Polygram Records
Short Description George Clinton, well-known funk/soul/dance superstar and godfather, signed various production and recording agreements with Universal Music and its affiliates, both as an individual and as a producer for other artists. Of relevance here, Clinton also signed an artist, Parlet, to the label as well. In the contracts, a three year Objections Provision and Limitations Provision designated the time frame in which he could contest royalty payments. According to these provisons, he could contest payments through "specificied objections" and could bring legal action only within three years after statements were rendered. When Clinton audited Defendants' royalty payments, he concluded he was owed over $32 million (quite an oversight). Defendants did not respond to Clinton's audit, so he sued for various causes of action, including contracts, unjust enrichment, and equitable theories for relief. Defendants sought to dismiss the complaint, citing the provisions above. The court found the contractual limitations period barred all of Clinton's claims related to Parliament-related royalties; he had not filed his complaint within three years, but had merely sent letters alerting Defendants that specific objections would be forthcoming. Even if he had specifically objected to the complaints within the time period, his lack of legal action was damning. However, the Parlet agreement was not produced by either party, so summary judgment regarding those royalties was premature, but the court eventually ruled in Defendants' favor regarding that agreement as well, in part because of previously signed release. - LSW


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12. Author: "You Infringed My Book About You!"
Highest Court E.D. Texas
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Estate of Author(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Book Author(s)
Four Seasons
Short Description Writer and Defendant, a member of the band the Four Seasons, agreed that the former would author a book about the latter's life and both would be listed as co-authors. After the book was finished, they could not secure a publisher, and the Defendant author died. Author's heirs learned that the musical Jersey Boys was based on the book, and sued for declaratory judgment of co-ownership, asking for an accounting and profits. Defendant sought to transfer venue to the federal district court in Las Vegas, Nevada, which was granted by the court. - LSW & SKR


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13. James Brown's Valuable Look (II)
Highest Court Appellate Court of Illinois
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Brown, James
Muhammad-Ali, Jesus
Defendants Corbis Corporation
Internet Provider(s)
Record Label(s)
Waller, "Dollar" Bill
Website Proprietor(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Defendant sells licenses to copyrighted images on its website, one of which included James Brown performing live. The artist sued, although he died in the interim and his estate took over, and the court initially held that the right of publicity did not cover the mere selling of licenses to copyrighted images, even if the end users would use them to violate publicity, and further that the Copyright Act preempted the right of publicity. The court later completely reversed its holding, and the court of appeal agreed with the reversal; Defendants actions were infringement, and publicity is not the same as copyright. - LSW


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14. Puerto Rican Folk Tunes on Trial
Highest Court D. Puerto Rico
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Brown, Roy
Defendants Asociaci?n de Compositores y Editores de M?sica Latino Americana (ACEMLA)
Music Publisher(s)
Other Corretjer, Juan Antonio
Short Description It appears Plaintiff is the Puerto Rican Roy Brown, not the American blues singer, who is here suing a third party for a declaration that certain folk and traditional songs re-recorded by Plaintiff are now in the public domain. Defendant counter-sued for copyright infringement, but the court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff on these claims, holding Defendant has offered no independent evidence of ownership and has merely denied Plaintiff's allegations. - LSW


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15. "Yes, I'm Ready" to Sample
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Mason, Barbara
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Cam'ron
Diplomatic Man Music
Diplomats
Heatmakerz
Island Def Jam Music
Jones, Jim
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Rock-A-Fella Records
Rsonist
Santana, Juelz
Thrilla
Universal Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Barbara Mason wrote the song "Yes, I'm Ready" in 1965 at the age of 17. Jamie Music Publishing, purporting to own the copyright, sued Cam'ron and assorted associated entities for infringing the composition. Mason intervened, arguing that she was the owner of the song, by virtue of her statutory renewal right, which she'd exercised (and registered). Even after the court allowed her intervention, JMP sought to deny her standing, since she'd recently transferred the copyrights to a third party. However, she remained a beneficial owner and therefore had standing. Then the court examined the songwriter agreement she signed as a minor, and reviewed the text of the various royalty payments she'd received from JMP over the years, and held that none of them constituted a writing sufficient to transfer either the original copyright or the renewal rights to this composition. The agreement contained no mention of the song and its reference to "Schedule B" was irrelevant, because there was no "Schedule B." Thus Mason was the owner, and the agreement between her and JMP was viewed as license, not an assignment. The lawsuit was set to continue, with the correct parties now in position. - LSW


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16. Hawthorne Heights Contract Exclusive?
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Hawthorne Heights
Defendants Brummel, Tony "Victory"
Music Publisher(s)
Victory Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Hawthorne Heights, one of the biggest acts of the early 2000s "emo" explosion, rose through the ranks of music stardom through the infamous independent record label, Chicago-based Victory Records, which is renowned in the business for its owner's aggressiveness and irratic behavior, as well as the labels' extensive control over artists' income and contractual freedom. When HH wanted to leave the label and pursue a more fruitful career at a label with less-scary executives, they sued and--miraculously--were so freed. It happens to be that Tony "Victory" Brummel, the label's outspoken owner, who purportedly insists on writing his own contracts himself, neglected to include any language of exclusivity. That means HH must still record more albums for Victory, as per the contract, but they are not barred from recording for others. They signed to Virgin, but the label problems stunted their momentum. They recently signed to Wind-Up another large indie. - LSW


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17. Co-writer vs. Slim Thug
Highest Court S.D. Texas
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Defendants Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
EMI Music
Jones, Mike
Slim Thug
Wall, Paul
Watts, Michael "5000"
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Co-author of an early version of "Still Tippin'," the song that made Slim Thug a well-known rap artist, sued when the chorus hook was re-used in the song that was publicly released. The court found that joint authorship in a work does not imply joint authorship in derivative works, and further that Plaintiff's state law claims were preempted by the Copyright Act. - LSW


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18. Loretta Lynn vs. Music Publisher
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Lynn, Loretta
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Loretta Lynn is a longstanding country superstar whose career dates back to the 1960s and continues until today. This lawsuit arose from a music publishing contract she signed in 1961, at the beginning of her career, with Defendant Sure-Fire Music. According to the agreement, the relationship would cease if Defendant's ownership changed hands, as Lynn wished to retain assocation with specific management. By 2003, only two of the original owners still controlled the company, and Lynn believed this meant their agreement was at an end. She sued in state court alleging various causes of action, principally a declaratory judgment that her copyrights were no longer owned by Defendants, but also alleging breach of contract and good faith/fair dealing and conversion. In state court, Defendants successfully argued the action was federal in nature and thus completely preempted by the Copyright Act. Lynn filed the same suit in federal court, who decided the action was state-based after all, and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Seeking to avoid re-litigation, Defendants appealed, arguing federal jurisdiction existed. The Circuit Court disagreed and affirmed the dismissal. Under the "equivalency" test for federal preemption, the court found Lynn's actions were not merely rephrasing copyright theories, but were based on contract interpretation, contract breach, and property ownership. Dismissal affirmed. - LSW


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19. Puddle of Mudd Ditches Members (II)
Highest Court W.D. Missouri
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Former Band Member(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Limp Bizkit
Puddle of Mudd
Short Description This isn't the only case against entities related with Puddle of Mudd regarding the circumstances of their record contract and subsequent popularity (see also "Puddle of Mudd Ditches Members (I)," filed by other members of the band). According to the facts presented in this opinion, Plaintiff and others founded the band without lead singer Wes Scantlin, though he joined later. When the band came to the attention to Fred What's-his-Name from Limp Bizkit, Scantlin apparently seized the negotiations for his own benefit and ditched the other band members, though they'd founded the band, co-written songs and even auditioned for record labels alongside Scantlin. Plaintiff sued for an accounting and various other state and federal causes of action, though he attempted to disguise some as state claims (perhaps to have the advantage of a longer statute of limitations). However, any state claims premised on copyright infringement would be susceptible to copyright's three-year limitation, and Plaintiff's claims fall within copyright law anyway. However, because there are issues of fact regarding when Plaintiff's claim accrued, Plaintiff was granted time to amend his complaint appropriately. - LSW


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20. Bad Blood Between Bodeans
Highest Court W.D. Wisconsin
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Music Manager(s)
Defendants Bodeans
Insurer(s)
Lawyer(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The Bodeans are a Wisconsin-based rock band who had several Top 40 hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then later scored on the "adult contemporary" charts, as is common with artists whose sound brings to mind bygone musical eras. In the mid-1980s, the Bodeans hired Plaintiff has their manager, at which time the parties formed a partnership and music publisher, in which Plaintiff was an active participant and stakeholder. After renegotiating Plaintiff's contract in 1995, the band's attorney, Defendant in this suit, alerted Plaintiff that earlier agreements (overseen by Defendant, including Plaintiff and the band) were insufficient to transfer copyright interests in songs written by the band to the partnership, and thus Plaintiff had no ownership. This notice conveniently accompanied a letter of termination, ending the band's relationship with Plaintiff by 2003. The trial court refused to grant Defendants motions for summary judgment, allowed Plaintiff to continue on malpractice and negligent misrepresentation theories, both arising from Defendants' failure to complete a proper copyright transfer earlier and partnership agreement earlier in their dealings. After holding Defendants' malpractice insurer could not deny coverage in this suit, the court then transferred the case to the Eastern District of Wisconsin, where a similar lawsuit between the parties was still pending. Since no later opinions exist, the dispute was likely settled. - LSW


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