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1. Does Madonna Owe Money?
Highest Court M.D. Louisiana
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Investor(s)
Defendants Film Producer(s)
Film Studio(s)
Madonna
Maverick Films
Music Manager(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs lent money to Madonna and her film company, Maverick Films, as well as various other individuals and entities associated with Madonna's film endeavors, which were in need of financing. After Defendants did not repay Plaintiffs' loans, Plaintiff sued all the parties for contract breach, unjust enrichment, detrimental reliance, unfair trade practices, and conversion. Maverick Films defaulted, and a default judgment was entered against them. (Various other procedural and evidentiary rulings were undertaken during 2009-2010, which are not discussed herein). On Madonna's and her manager's motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the court found in their favor. First, her manager had not submitted to jurisdiction by appearing at Maverick's default hearing, because he contested to jurisdiction all along. Second, there was no jurisdiction over either Madonna or her manager, neither individually nor as corporate officers. Their personal presence within Louisiana was minimal, Madonna having performed there sometime in the 1980s, and their recent contacts with the state were all within their capacities as corporate officers, which does not subject them to personal jurisdiction as individuals. Furthermore, the court would not "pierce the corporate veil" and find jurisdiction over them personally, because Plaintiff did not adequately illustrate that their corporations were mere alter egos or vehicles by which Madonna and Co. perpetuated fraud. Though a default judgment was entered against Maverick, the cause was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction as to Madonna, et. al. - LSW


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2. Legendary Soul Man Lawsuit
Highest Court M.D. Tennessee
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Moore, Sam
Trust of Artist(s)
Defendants Concord Music Group
Dimension Films
MGM, Inc.
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description "The Legendary Soul Man Sam Moore," half of the singing duo Sam & Dave, along with his wife and irrevocable trust, which is the beneficiary of his trademarks and other rights, sued Defendant film companies for the production and release of a film called "Soul Men," about a soul-singing duo, which Plaintiff alleged was based on Sam & Dave, who were called "Soul Men" as a result of their well-known hit song, "Soul Man." Defendants' film was released on DVD around the same time as a retrospective of Sam & Dave called "The Original Soul Men Sam & Dave." Moore filed a lengthy complaint, alleging various causes of action relating to publicity and trademarks/unfair competition, arguing Defendants' was passing its film off as a film about Sam & Dave, and that Defendants' were trading on the duo's publicity and likeness. Additionally, Moore sued the music company that owned the music used in the film, alleging their licensing of songs to Defendant for use in the film constituted an act indicating a civil conspiracy. On Defendants' motion to dismiss the passing off and publicity claims, the court applied the "expressive works" doctrine, which holds that, when the subject of a suit involves Defendant's expressive works, trademark-oriented claims are subject to heightened scrutiny. In this case, the doctrine was overcome on a motion to dismiss, because Plaintiffs' and Defendants' products were in direct competition. The court allowed Moore to amend his complaint without leave to specify Concord Music's involvement in the alleged conspiracy . These issues are better left to summary judgment than a motion to dismiss. In an unrelated opinion, the court compelled Plaintiffs to affirm or deny some of Defendants' requests for admission, despite Defendants putting forth over 500 individual requests. - LSW


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3. 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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4. Stepney's Family Wants Royalties
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Trust of Artist(s)
Defendants UMG Records
Other Stepney, Charles
Short Description Charles Stepney was the head producer at Chess Records, the pivotal Chicago-based record label immortalized in the movie "Cadillac Records," for some years during the late 1960s and 1970s, after time as a staff producer. Under his agreement with Chess, Stepney was to be paid a 3% royalty on 90% of the records released containing only his material, and half that percentage on foreign sales. However, when he died in 1976, he had only been provided with two accounting statements, which should have been tendered twice a year. His rights passed to his wife through his estate, and his wife died in 2008, after which Stepney's children, in the name of his estate and their newly-created trust, sued UMG--Chess's successor-in-interest--for breach of contract and fiduciary duties and multiple equitable remedies. In this opinion, the court ruled only on three counts of the complaint, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for breach of fiduciary duty, because no fiduciary relationship was alleged, and constructive trust, because it is a remedy and not an independent cause of action. However, Plaintiffs' claim for unjust enrichment was not dismissed. Other causes of action were not discussed. - LSW


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5. Akon Ignores Investment?
Highest Court N.D. Georgia
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Investor(s)
Defendants Akon
Konvict Muzik
Music Executive(s)
Other Glowb
Short Description Plaintiff is apparently an investor that loaned $400,000 to a Konvict Muzik, a multifaceted music company co-founded by hop-hop artist Akon. Plaintiff signed a contract with the other co-founder, who was acting on behalf of one of the many limited liability companies operating under Konvict's umbrella. The money was loaned for the development of a hip-hop group called Glowb. The Defendants in this case included many different Konvict-related companies (and Akon himself), not just the company with which the contract was signed, even though the contract itself contained language limiting the agreement to the undersigned parties. Despite liberal pleading requirements, the court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss on the pleadings. Plaintiff's breach of contract action was dismissed because Plaintiff never signed a contract with most Defendants, and the signatory was not acting as Defendants' agent when signing. Conversion was dismissed because Plaintiff did not sufficiently allege that Defendants ever received or had actual possession of the loaned funds; fraud and unjust enrichment were dismissed for the same reason. Though it seems Defendants did indeed wrong Plaintiff, Plaintiff will need to learn how and whom to sue, if Plaintiff wants remuneration. - LSW


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6. "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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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. Record Label vs. Crofts (But No Seals)
Highest Court N.D. Georgia
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Record Label(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Seals and Crofts
Short Description Defendant Crofts, of Seals and Crofts, entered an agreement to record songs for Plaintiff, but purportedly breached this agreement, resulting in the instant lawsuit. Plaintiff's actions for fraud and equitable rescission were denied, but so were Defendant's motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, to transfer venue, or to compel arbitration, so Plaintiff's breach of contract claim survives. - LSW


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


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10. Jacko's Manager Wants Commission
Highest Court District of Columbia Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Raymone, Bain
Defendants Jackson, Michael
MJJ Productions
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Raymone Bain is a high profile music manager, agent, publicist, and adviser, who has worked with many big-name celebrities, including Boyz II Men, Sammy Davis, Jr., former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, and, relevant to this suit, Michael Jackson. Bain signed on as Michael's publicist in 2003, but by 2006 had taken an expanded role in his affairs, signing agreements naming Bain his personal manager that guaranteed her 10% finder's fee for projects she initiated. After Bain initiated several such endeavors, such as the 25th anniversary of "Thriller" and Jackson's 2008 Grammy appearance, Jackson cut off all ties to Bain and refused to pay her finder's fee. Jackson died and Plaintiff sued his estate; Defendants pointed to a release Bain signed eight days before Jackson died, which appeared to absolve Defendants of liability. Plaintiff claimed the release was invalid for a number of reasons. First, the court found that Defendants had waived their right to arbitration, according to the contract, by filing an answer in the suit. Second, the court held that the release was clear and unambiguous and barred Plaintiff from pursuing, not just claims for past-due amounts, but any claims arising from the relationship, including unpaid finder's fees. Last, the court found that Plaintiff's arguments contesting the validity of the release--alleging both fraud in the inducement and mistake of fact--were unconvincing. Plaintiff was undoubtedly a very established and savvy businesswomen. Last, because the contract between the parties was valid, Bain's requests for equitable relief failed as well. - LSW


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11. Surviving Survivors Sue
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Survivor
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Peterik, Jim
Scotti Brothers Records
Short Description Survivor is, without a doubt, best-known for their massive hit, "Eye of the Tiger," that functioned as the theme song to Rocky III. However, they had other hits, and have continued to perform as a band up until today. Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are the band's founder and the band's corporate entity, while Defendants are members of the band who had been with the band at the time "Eye" was recorded and released. In the early days of the band, the members formed a joint venture, which allowed for replacement members to become full venturers in the agreement. Plaintiffs joined the band sometime thereafter. Prior to this lawsuit, in the mid-1990s, members of the band Survivor, including Plaintiffs but not Defendants, realized they had not been tendered royalties or statements by Scotti Brothers, the record label with which they had previously signed. Plaintiffs brought suit, and the parties settled, with 20% of royalties paid to songwriter/producer Jim Peterik and 80% paid to Survivor. However, Plaintiffs represented to Defendants, when Defendants re-joined the band in the late 1990s, that no royalties were forthcoming, because the band was indebted to their record label. This court opinion, which does not state the reason for Plaintiff's lawsuit, addresses Defendants' counterclaims alleging that Plaintiffs committed various wrongs (see the attached list of legal issues) relating to the concealment of Plaintiffs' settlement for royalty payments and subsequent receipt of those royalties. On Plaintiff's motion to dismiss counterclaims, the court found that Defendants introduced evidence, beyond the speculative level, that they were full members of the band (pursuant to the joint venture agreement and subsequent record contracts), and were thus owed royalties, which were not paid by Plaintiffs. Furthermore, Defendants' fraud claims were properly stated, even under heightened pleading requirements, because they alleged that Plaintiffs intentionally misled Defendants into believing no royalties were forthcoming, despite the settlement. Last, because Defendants learned of the nonpayment of royalties in 2009, when Peterik told them of his 20% interest, the statute of limitations had not run. In a related subsequent ruling, the court held Defendants were not judicially estopped from asserting claims against Plaintiffs for royalties, despite not having claimed the royalties or cited the contracts amongst the band members and with Scotti Brothers in a previous bankruptcy proceeding. - LSW


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12. Lil' Wayne's Sampling Karma
Highest Court E.D. Louisiana
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Lil' Wayne
Other Henry Ate
Swanepoel, Karma Ann
Short Description Plaintiff is the publisher for Karma Ann Swanepoel, songwriter for the South African band, Henry Ate, who sued Lil' Wayne for sampling the band on a track released for free on the internet. Lil's song was intended to to "create buzz" in anticipation of Lil's upcoming album, "Tha Carter III." After the album was released (which did not contain the infringing song), Plaintiff sued and sought discovery documents relating to the album's gross revenue, under a theory of "indirect profits," seeing as the song was accessed by over 16 million people online. According to the court, the case was in its "infancy," and Plaintiff had shown a sufficient nexus between the pre-album song and the later-released album such that the document requests were reasonable. Defendant had presumably benefitted from the infringing song through album sales, and the court granted Plaintiff's motion to compel. - LSW


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13. Eminem's Management Problem
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Michigan
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Manager(s)
Defendants Eminem
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description A music manager and promoter sued Eminem and assorted defendants, including the lesser-known rapper Swift, a close friend of Eminem, and D12, Em's group, for breach of contract and other related actions arising from Defendants severing their relationship with Plaintiff. Claims were dismissed as to Swift for Plaintiff's lack of any proper agent license, which was statutorily required for anyone booking bands for a living in Michigan, but not always needed for people providing career advice or helping artists in other capacities. Because Plaintiff's actions put him within the purpose of the statute, the contract claims were dismissed. (The contract's choice of law provision determining Georgia as the applicable law was not upheld, because Georgia had no relationship to the parties, relationship, or dispute.) Further, the unjust enrichment claims against D12 were also dismissed; because there was an actual contract, no actions for implied or quasi-contracts may stand. - LSW


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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. Lawyers vs. NIN's Managers
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Ohio
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Lawyer(s)
Defendants Malm, John (Jr.)
Music Manager(s)
Other Nine Inch Nails
Short Description After losing his earlier lawsuit against Nine Inch Nails' (NIN) lead singer Trent Reznor, former manager John Malm apparently failed to pay his attorneys properly, giving rise to this action in breach of contract and unjust enrichment. This opinion addresses the question of whether, by voluntarily testifying as to communications made with his attorneys during depositions and trial, Malm had voluntarily waived the attorney-client privilege regarding such communications between he and his attorneys. Despite Malm's arguments otherwise, the court held that his testimonies were voluntary and thus waived the privilege. In this lawsuit, Malm cannot claim a privilege he'd previously waived, and thus Plaintiffs' motion to compel communications were granted. - LSW


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18. Andre 3000 vs. Cybersquatter
Highest Court E.D. California
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Andre 3000
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Clothing Manufacturer(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Other Outkast
Short Description Plaintiff is Andre Benjamin, better known as Andre 3000, half of the hip-hop duo Outkast and owner of a clothing line called Benjamin Bixby. Defendants are father and son, the latter named Ben Bixby. After Andre announced his plans to launch the Bixby clothing line, Defendants registered domain names like benjaminbixby.com, benjaminbixbyclothing.com, and other similar names. When Plaintiffs inqured, Defendants alleged they intended to use the sites to showcase little Ben Bixby's motocross photography, and said Plaintiff's $5,000 offer for the domain names was insufficient. Then (here's where it gets ridiculous), Defendants posted on their website images of clothing and messages indicating the intent to sell clothing, but nothing about motocross. Further, they used "Andre 3000," "Outkast," and other similarly confusing terms as metatags, so the site would come up in search engines for Plaintiff and his companies. Man, that's bogus. Of course, this opinion doesn't discuss the substance of the complaint, but merely granted Defendants' motion to transfer the action to Michigan, where Defendants reside and where their infringing acts took place. While Defendants' case seems pretty weark, they most likely succeeded in annoying the hell out of Andre 3000. - LSW


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19. 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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20. Stormy Weather for Doo Wop Song (II)
Highest Court Seventh Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Individual(s)
Lawyer(s)
Nonprofit Organization(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Stormy Weather
Short Description This "over-litigated" case was mired by subpar lawyering and excessive legal filings, turning what could have been a rather straightforward copyright lawsuit into a pathetic symphony of sanctions, bogus motions, and attorneys' fees. The case revolves around the song "The Wonders of Indiana," written and performed by the Gary, Indiana doo-wop group, Stormy Weather. The band's leader Henry Farag, told the band that an Indiana visitors' center was interested in a song about the state, and songwriter, Cheryl Janky, took to the task of penning the tune. After some small changes were made, at Farag's suggestion, Janky regsitered the song in both of their names. When the song was released on CD, used at the visitors center, and included as "hold music" for the center's phone lines, Janky adjusted her registration to remove Farag's name and filed a copyright infringement lawsuit. A slew of motions, appeals, etc., followed, many of which pertained to procedural issues or to the numerous sanctions granted against Janky and her lawyers. These are well summarized in "Stormy Weather for Doo Wop Song (II)." At trial, Defendants presented various theories as defenses, including 1) the song was a work-for-hire, and thus owned by the visitors center or Farag and 2) the song was co-authored by Farag and Janky, as evidenced by her initial copyright registration naming Farag. After many motions were filed by Plaintiffs and denied, around $50,000 in sanctions were levied against Plaintiff and her lawyers (possibly more, since it's difficult to discern) over the course of this lawsuit. At trial, the jury returned a verdict for Janky, finding Defendants liable for $100,000 in damages, though around $15,000 in sanctions (against Janky herself) offset that amount. After more appeals and an alternate lawsuit was filed ("Stormy Weather for Doo Wop Song (II)"), the case found itself in the federal Court of Appeals. There, the court reversed the lower verdict in Plaintiff's favor, finding the song was co-authored by Janky and Farag; though Janky denied as much, the court held that the song was written with mutual intentions to be merged into an inseparable whole, and that Farag's contributions were independently copyrightable. The case was reversed and remanded, and Janky--facing tens of thousands of dollars in sanctions--seemed S.O.L. - LSW


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