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1. No Doubt Enforces their Faces
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs No Doubt
Defendants Activision
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description When No Doubt agreed to license their likenesses for use in the "Band Hero" video game, they did not know the extent to which Activision, the game's developer, would utilize the computer-generated images (CGI) of the band members. No Doubt allowed Activision to use their CGI personas for advertising, packaging, etc., but Activision went much further, hiring lookalikes to act out the members' performances in order to create fully-functioning CGI characters that players could use in the game after "unlocking" them at various levels. No Doubt sued for violation of their publicity and deceptive business practices, and, regarding the contract they signed, fraudulent inducement, breach, and rescission. The state court initially removed the case to federal court saying Plaintiffs' actions were preempted by the Copyright Act, but the federal court disagreed and remanded back to state court; publicity rights were not synonymous with copyrights, since names and likenesses are not copyrightable at all, and the contract-related actions were also not copyright-related. Back in state court, Defendants filed an Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss, which is a special motion, intended to protect First Amendment rights, that allows Defendants to dismiss claims that 1) relate to protected speech and 2) are unlikely to prevail at trial. Unfortunately for Defendants, the court sided with Plaintiffs. Regarding the publicity claims, the court found that life-like CGI versions of the band members were not "transformative," and thus protected speech, but were "conventional, more or less fungible, images" of the members that the band had the right to control. As to unfair competition claims, the court also found that Activision's use of the likenesses would confuse the public even if it was not "explicitly misleading," which some courts have required. Since Plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their claims, the Anti-SLAPP motion failed. - LSW


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2. 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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3. 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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4. Kid Dances on YouTube, Gets Sued
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants Universal Music
Universal Music Group
Other Prince
Short Description The facts behind this case--if not the case itself--are infamous. Plaintiff videotaped her son dancing to a Prince song, "Let's Go Crazy," which she then posted to YouTube. Universal Music sent a "take down notice" to YouTube, alleging the video was infringement. This lawsuit was brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Plaintiff's behalf, accusing Universal of misrepresenting facts to YouTube under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and including other, somewhat-related claims. Plaintiff, of course, claimed "fair use," while Defendant claimed "bad faith" and "unclean hands." Most court opinions involved only procedural issues, but the sole published opinion denied Universal's motion to dismiss. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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5. 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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6. Esther Williams: "Let Me Sue You!"
Highest Court D. District of Columbia
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Williams, Esther
Defendants Bullseye Records
Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records
Island/Def Jam Records
Other Ghostface Killah
Shakur, Tupac
Short Description Williams released the album "Let Me Show You" in 1975, containing the song "Last Night Changed It All (I Really Had A Ball)," which was licensed by Defendant as samples in Ghostface Killah and 2pac tracks in 2002. Plaintiff says she has owned the copyright since 1977, when the label for whom she recorded the album allegedly breached the recording contract through nonpayment and failure to account. Defendant, who was a producer and publisher ar the label, claims he became a partner and is now the owner. The label went out of business in the 1980s. Williams sued Defendant for copyright infringment and other claims, alleging his licensing the song to third parties violated her rights. The two parties differ markedly in their accounts of her contract, Defendant saying 1) she was a "work-for-hire" for the record label, 2) the contract provided for the label's ownership, and 3) Williams received no royalties because there were none to be paid (the album sold only 14 copies and her $11,000 advance was to be recouped before she received any royalties). Since many issues of fact existed regarding both parties relationship to the copyrights, the court refused Defendants motions for summary judgment on copyright infringement and false light invasion of privacy (she didn't approve of rap music). However, Plaintiff could not proceed on copyright claims based on infringement more than three years before her complaint, and her right of publicity action was held preempted by copyright. - LSW


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7. Mahavishnu Bassist Sues for Film
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Former Band Member(s)
Defendants Eagle Rock Entertainment
Other Mahavishnu Orchestra
Short Description Ralphe Armstrong is a professional bassist with an impressive career, having performed alongside Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Curtis Mayfield, Herbie Hancock, Sting, and The Temptations, among others. Relevant to this suit, he was the bassist of John McLaughlin's jazz fusion group, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and performed with the band at Montreaux in 1974, when he was merely seventeen years old. Defendant released a series of live performances from the Montreaux festivals over the years, including a two-disc DVD of the Orchestra, including the set from 1974, which included Plaintiff's image on the back cover. Plaintiff sued for various related causes, including unfair competition, false designation of origin, rights of publicity and privacy, and unjust enrichment, arising from his appearance on the performance and packaging without permission. Regarding his privacy/publicity claims, the court held the First Amendment barred his action for the photo within the design, and held the claims regarding his videotaped performance were preempted by the Copyright Act. If Plaintiff believes he is owed copyright royalties, his action should be brought against the copyright holder, which granted Defendants permission. Further, as would be expected, his Lanham Act unfair competition/false advertising claims were barred by the First Amendment and the Copyright Act, which exclusively controls the rights to copyrightable creations fixed in tangible form. Plaintiff's complaint was disposed in its entirety on Defendants' summary judgment, and reconsideration was dened. (See Ralphe's earlier suit in "Mahavishnu Bassist Sues for Sample.") - LSW


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8. Latifah's Movies Copy Plaintiff's?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Scriptwriter(s)
Defendants Buena Vista Pictures
Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Individual(s)
Queen Latifah
Walt Disney
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Writer of script for movie Amoral Dilemma sued makers of Bringing Down the House, including Queen Latifah, who starred in the film, alleging the film substantially copied Plaintiff's work. The District Court dismissed Plaintiffs complaint numerous times... - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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9. DJ Says: "DMX & Fitty Copied Me!"
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Fharmacy Records
Music Producer(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Def Jam Records
Music Publisher(s)
Ruff Ryders
Universal Music Group
Other DMX
Short Description DMX and songwriters sued for copyright infringement of Plaintiff's composition. Judgment for Defendants. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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10. Romantics vs. Guitar Hero
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Romantics
Defendants Video Game Developer(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Band sued video game for inclusion of version of their copyrighted song, and for violation of right of publicity. Judgment for Defendants, First Amendment rules. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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11. Junior Walker's Family vs. Motown
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Jobete Music
Other Walker, Junior
Short Description Plaintiffs were heirs to Autry De Walt's (Junior Walker's) recording legacy, and filed suit instate court against Jobete Music, a publishing company, requesting a declaration that certain "single song" publishing agreements Junior Walker signed in the 1960s did not convey copyright renewal interests. If Plaintiffs' suit were successful, they would, as his heirs, receive the rights to the songs' renewal terms. However, after a trial on the merits, the jury found that Plainitffs' main thrust was moot, since Walker plainly entered subsequent contracts superseding the earlier agreements and these later contracts explicitly provided for a transfer of renewal rights. Furthermore, the jury found that Jobete had not failed to pay Walker and his heirs royalties under the later agreements. On appeal, Plaintiffs, who brought their suit in state court, now argued the court lacked jurisdiction, as the issue was one of copyright, and thus within exclusively federal jurisdiction. The appellate court was unsympathetic to Plaintiffs' shift in perspective; the jury was not asked to decide any issues of copyright jurispridence, but only to decipher conractual language. Judgment for Defendants affirmed. - LSW


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12. 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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13. Bodyguard: "I'm R. Kelly's Mentor!"
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants Kelly, R.
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The former security guard for R. Kelly claimed to have been more than hired muscle, but also a close friend and "mentor," who advised Kelly to learn a dance style known as "steppin,'" taught Kelly how to do the move, and helped Kelly write the song, "Step in the Name of Love." Plaintiff argued he'd offered his assistance and talents at a time when Kelly's public reputation was suffering, and, after the song and dance were released, Kelly's career was revitalized. Plantiff alleged Kelly promised him half the proceeds, and sued R. for breach of oral contract, unjust enrichment, fraud, and even assault. Kelly removed the case to federal court, saying Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claims were simply disguised copyright actions, and the court agreed. Misappropriation of Plaintiff's song and dance is either infringement or an argument for joint authorship, both falling within copyright's ambit, and does not contain the "extra element" necessary to remove it from exclusive federal jurisdiction. While the fraud, contract, and assault claims may stand, they will be tried in federal court as well. - LSW


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14. 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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15. Gothic Battle Over Copyright Kingdom
Highest Court N.D. Ohio
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Midnight Syndicate
Defendants Nox Arcana
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Parties are two gothic/ambient bands, Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana, embroiled in litigation including accusations of copyright infringement, cybersquatting, and counter-accusations of trademark infringement, publicity appropriation, et. al. The District Court held all Defendant's state law counter-claims were preempted by the federal copyright act, and that the Lanham claims were not cognizable, since general ideas and concepts cannot receive trademark protection. - LSW


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16. Big Stars Rip Off Demo Tapes?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Bertelsman Music Group (BMG)
EMI Music
Music Producer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
N SYNC
Nelly
Neptunes
Williams, Pharrell
Zomba Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff was an unknown songwriter, unsurprisingly, alleging the band N SYNC used several of his songs on their third studio album, "Celebrity," including their hit single "Girlfriend," which he argued was copied from his song "Be My Girlfriend." Plaintiff purportedly gave demo recordings of the songs to the band. The Plaintiff, appearing pro se, was granted leave to amend his complaint to state a cause of action, since, as it stood, it only contained allegations of fact. - LSW


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17. Pete Rock vs. Shady Record Label
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Rock, Pete
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Website Proprietor(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Pete Rock is an early pioneer--along with Gang Starr, Stetsasonic, and others--of hip-hop's exploration into jazz (used largely as samples), and, along with partner C.L. Smooth, released a string of albums in the early 1990s. He later went solo, and this case arose from that phase of his carrer. Rock recorded an album for Defendant, an independent record label, and scrapped a decent number of songs, considering them unfit to be released. Defendant, without Rock's permission, released the songs as a follow-up album, and Rock sued, alleging copyright infringement, contract breach, and various related state law claims. Defendants sought to enforce the forum selection clause contained in the contract, and the issue became whether claims for copyright infringement can be said to "arise from" the contract and thus be subject to to clause, which required litigation in England. The District Court said they did, but the Second Circuit disagreed. Though the forum clause was mandatory, the court held that Rock's rights in the songs infringed by Defendants did not "arise from" the agreement; the contract only entered the litigation as a defense brought by Defendants, and did not constitute any part of Plaintiff's copyright infringement claims. The contract claim was dismissed, as it needed to be brought in England, but the copyright claims were not. - LSW


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18. Debra Laws vs. J-Lo & L.L.
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Laws, Debra
Defendants Epic Records
Sony Music
Other LL Cool J
Lopez, Jennifer
Short Description Debra Laws, an American R&B singer, sued Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J for violation of publicity after the latter used Plaintiff's voice in song. Defendants had obtained a valid license for the copyright, and therefore the action was preempted by copyright law. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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19. Caballero de la Salsa: "Mas Dinero!"
Highest Court First Circuit
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Santa-Rosa, Gilberto
Defendants Insurer(s)
Music Distributor(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The "Caballero de la Salsa" sued his record company for underpayment of royalties according to an alleged contract that he did not retain a copy of. He had only been advanced $12,000 one time, never received royalties, and Defendants claimed not to know how many of his records they'd sold. Plaintiff sued under numerous different theories, including Copyright, contract, and Lanham, but the court found his claims all stated copyright actions, and thus the state actions were preempted and the Lanham claims were duplicative. Since his copyright claims were time-barred, well outside the three year statute of limitations, determining his actions to all state copyright actions meant that his entire complaint was dismissed. The Court of Appeal affirmed. - LSW


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20. Producer vs. Hi-Tek, Jonnell, and Labels
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Defendants DJ Hi-Tek
Jonnell
Music Publisher(s)
Priority Records
Record Label(s)
UMG Records
Universal Studios
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description One of the defendants, Cottrell, better known as the Cincinnati-based rapper Hi-Tek, ran a recording studio. He met the Plaintiff, a childhood acquaintance, and allowed him entry into the studio. Cottrell was working in the studio with another Defendant, Showes, on a song called "Raw Game." The Plaintiff heard their take and made some lyrical changes. The song eventually became a minor hit called "Round and Round." The Defendants licensed the song without giving any credit to the Plaintiff. The song was included in the soundtrack to the movie "How High," for which the Plaintiff did receive authorship. The Plaintiff registered the song with ASCAP, receiving over $10,000. This was done without the defendants' permission, as they are members of BMI. The Court noted several issues of fact concerning whether the Plaintiff had granted the Defendant's liberty to change his suggested lyrics and the total amount of his contributions. The Plaintiff, self-represented, claimed breach of fiduciary duty against Cottrell and Showes, misappropriation, and copyright infringement. The Court allowed the copyright claims to proceed. The Count there was no special circumstances in the Plaintiff and Defendants' relationship that gave rise to a fiduciary duty; the Plaintiff's inexperience in the industry is not enough. The Court also found that his state misappropriation claim was preempted by the Federal Copyright Act. The Court liberally examined the Plaintiff's pleadings, finding that there were questions about how he perceived himself in the songwriting process and the degree to which he retained control over the use of his lyrical suggestions. The Court noted his licensing efforts and his attribution in the movie soundtrack. The Court denied the Defendant's later motion for reconsideration. - JMC


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