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1. Victory to Virgin: "Hawthorne's Ours!"
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Victory Records
Defendants Virgin Records
Other Hawthorne Heights
Short Description Hawthorne Height's public "beef" with Victory records has been, as the court acknowledged, well-documented. When Victory Records sought to ensure that Hawthorne's 2006 album, "If Only You Were Lonely," beat out Ne-Yo's concurrently-released album on the Billboard 200, the label published a "manifesto" in Hawthorne's name, framing the two releases as a battle between rock and rap, which many people construed as racist. Furthermore, they encouraged Victory "street team" members to hide the Ne-Yo album to prevent it from being purchased. A very public lawsuit erupted in which, interestingly, Hawthorne was released from their Victory contract because the label's owner, Tony Victory (nee Brummel) forgot to put an exclusivity provision in the agreement (see "Hawthorne Heights Contract Exclusive?"). This lawsuit followed several years later, brought by Victory against Virgin Records, the label with whom the band subsequently signed, though they are no longer on the roster. Victory argued that the band's dismal sales on their third album resulted from Virgin's "interference." In this opinion, the court granted Virgin's motion in limine to exclude Victory's expert witness from testifying about the damages Victory incurred from Virgin's interference. The court held that 1) the expert incorrectly relied on Victory's internal figures, as opposed to objective outside sources, 2) Victory's expert employed the "yardstick" method for determining lost sales, but only used one band, Paramore, as a comparison, and 3) the expert failed to consider convincing alternative reasons for the band's low sales, such as negativity surrounding the "manifesto" and anti-rap campaign that was very negatively perceived by the purchasing public. Expert not allowed. - LSW


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2. Sammy Davis, Jr.'s Legacy
Highest Court N.D. Texas
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Estate of Artist(s)
Financial Institution(s)
Spouse of Artist(s)
Defendants Financial Institution(s)
Financial Professional(s)
Other Davis, Sammy (Jr.)
Short Description Sammy Davis, Jr., was undoubtedly one of the most iconic musical stars of the twentieth century, and his death left behind piles of money, royalties, and assorted enforceable rights for his family. After his death, Sammy's wife, Altovise, formed a corporation with Defendants, including a financial institution and its named owner, to handle the royalty income, publicity rights, etc., for the deceased star. In forming their corporation, the parties agreed that Altovise would transfer her interests to the new corporation, but that after five years she would be given the assets back in return for a payment of $1. After the time limit was reached and she tendered the required payment, Defendants refused to remit the properties and interests to Plaintiffs, which include Altovise's estate and assorted corporate and financial entities. Defendants argued that Plaintiffs could not enforce the terms of the agreements because Altovise had previously materially breached the contract by withholding royalties. The court denied Plaintiffs' motion to strike statements made by various Defendants, which were relevant to Defendants' equitable defenses. However, on Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction preventing Defendants from continuing to exploit the contested assets while withholding payment to Plaintiffs, the court found that Defendants were indeed spending money belonging to the corporation, not paying Plaintiffs their 1/3 interest in the corporation's profits, and publicly declaring that Defendants owned all the corporation's assets. Defendants were enjoined from spending any more money or writing checks to anyone other than the court, from holding themselves out as owners of the assets, from selling or transferring shares in the company to anyone other than Plaintiff (or anyone at all). - LSW


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3. Songwriter: "Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!" (II)
Highest Court D. Massachusetts
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Bon Jovi
Individual(s)
Lawyer(s)
Major League Baseball
Music Publisher(s)
TBS, Inc.
Time Warner, Inc.
Other Boston Red Sox
Short Description Plaintiff previously brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against a gaggle of Defendants, including Bon Jovi, the Boston Red Sox, numerous record labels and television companies, and more, alleging that a Jovi-penned song used by the Red Sox in an advertising campaign infringed a similar song he'd previously written and popularized in the Boston area. After numerous court opinions (see "Songwriter: 'Jovi Sox Ripped Me Off!' (I)") the court found for Defendants, holding Plaintiff's theories of copyright infringement unsustainable. In this follow-up case, Plaintiff sued some of the same parties, and some new ones, for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), alleging that the Defendants' concealed copyright infringement, removed correct copyright notice from the advertisement, and submitted false evidence to the court. As could be predicted, the court was unsympathetic. Plaintiff based his allegations on the same facts previously decided against him, and the court found his current claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Furthermore, Plaintiff simply failed to allege any acts that violated any of his rights under the DMCA. Despite the pointlessness of the lawsuit, the court, in its discretion, denied Defendants' motion for sanctions, and instead gave Plaintiff an admonition. - LSW


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4. Reel Tight vs. Usher
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Arista Records
Cox, Bryan-Michael
Dupri, Jermaine
EMI April Music
La Face Records
Music Publisher(s)
So So Def Records
Sony Music
Usher
Zomba Records
Other Reel Tight
Short Description The R&B group, Reel Tight, had a brief and dim limelight in the late 1990s, when they signed to Warren G's record label, G-Funk, an imprint of Restless Records; made guest appearances on various Warren G-related songs; and released one album in 1999. In this lawsuit, over ten years after Reel Tight's last release, one of the band's members--purportedly the band's songwriter--sued Usher, Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox, and numerous other music entities, alleging Usher's song "Burn" infringed the Reel Tight jam, "No More Pain." This court opinion involved the admissibility of Plaintiff's expert witness, a musicologist, who had been retained by Plaintiff on a contingency basis. In California, as in some other states, expert witnesses whose compensation is based on the outcome of the case are barred from testifying, on the grounds that their testimony is tainted by their inherent interest in the outcome of the suit. The court found this public policy rationale applicable to the instant facts, and barred Plaintiff's expert witness. - LSW


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5. Rappers Receive Enough Royalties?
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Robinson, Sylvia
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Sanctuary Records
Other Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five
Grand Master Melle Mel
Sugar Hill Gang
Wall Street Mob
Short Description The Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash, The Wall Street Mob, The Furious Five, and Grand Master Melle Mel, along with Sylvia Robinson, founder of Sugar Hill Records, godmother of rap music, and former member of Mickey and Sylvia, which had a few hits back in the day, sued Sanctuary Records Group for release from record contracts. After obtaining a default judgment for rescission of the contracts, Plaintiffs sought damages in the realm of $30 million, even though they'd initially only sought rescission. and damages from unpaid royalties. Artists were released from contracts after default judgment, but were awarded no damages. Both Sanctuary and the Plaintiffs appealed, the former seeking to vacate the default and the latter requesting monetary relief. After first being unsuccessful, the Court of Appeals later remanded to the District Court to reconsider their denial to vacate the default; it is the preference of the courts to resolve disputes on the merits. - LSW


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6. Songwriter: "Neptunes Copied Me!"
Highest Court D. Connecticut
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Arista Records
Neptunes
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Williams, Pharrell
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Pharrell and the Neptunes released a song entitled "I'm Frontin'," which Plaintiffs claim was copied from their own song, "Frontin'," and the District Court dismissed the case, holding the two songs could not be found substantially similar. The name, which is among their only purported similarities is merely a "hip hop idiom." Plaintiffs' motion in reply to Defendants' motion to dismiss alleged issues of fact and cited expert testimony in their favor, but left nothing substantive to be decided; the court held their allegations were either immaterial or undisputed. - 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. Producer: "Everyone Ripped Me Off!"
Highest Court D. District of Columbia
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Music Retailer(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Atlantic Records
Atlantic Records
Baby/Birdman
Banks, Lloyd
Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Brandy
Cash Money Records
Dash, Damon
Def Jam Music Group
Ertegun, Ahmet
Fat Joe
G-Unit
Individual(s)
Interscope Records
Jay-Z
Juvenile
Legend, John
Lil' Wayne
Ludacris
MTV Networks
Paramount Pictures
Professional Athlete(s)
Reid, L.A.
Rock-A-Fella Records
T.I.
Talent Agent(s)
Turner, Ted
UMG Records
Universal Music Group
VH-1
Viacom
Warner Music Group
Warner-Chappell Music
West, Kanye
Ying Yang Twins
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff sued 45 industry defendants, including 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Fat Joe, and others for copyright infringement of songs he had sent to the labels for review. The Plaintiff had previously bought an educational CD made by a division of Universal, which explained how to succeed in music. After failing to serve most of the defendants, the defendant continued to file "baseless motions" and disregarded the Court's order to submit the list of infringed works as well as CDs containing his stolen music. The Court explained how copyright law works, dissecting the amateurish arguments of the Defendant. Essentially, every alleged theft was based on unprotectible elements, i.e. his "stolen song" and the defendant's song would both be about upset, urban young males. This was the case for every one of the fourteen songs. - JMC


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9. Pro Se Plaintiff vs. Wyclef and Jerry
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Columbia Records
Duplessis, Jerry
Jean, Wyclef
Music Publisher(s)
Sony Music
Sony/ATV Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description An unknown songwriter, acting "pro se," sued Wyclef Jean (of Fugees fame) and superstar songwriter/producer Jerry Duplessis, alleging the duo copied her copyrighted song in theirs, though the courts' opinions do not explain which songs were involved. Regardless, it appears Plaintiffs' actions were quite unfounded, and the trial was a bit of a circus. The Second Circuit found no error in the trial court's judgment, including, inter alia, the correctness in denying Plaintiff the opportunity to "sing at trial the unique melodic lyrical chorus" she claimed was common between the songs, and the correctness of allowing Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, a commonly utilized expert musicologist, to testify at trial. After the holding was upheld, the Eastern District of New York granted attorneys fees to Defendants, finding that "Plaintiff's position was both factually and legally unreasonable," and that Plaintiff actually misled the court. To both compensate Defendants and deter parties like Plaintiff, the court granted $63,095.60 in fees. - LSW


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


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11. Contract with Chipmunks Breached
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Capitol Records
Other Bogdasarian, Ross
Chipmunks
Short Description Alvin and the Chipmunks first came to prominence during the 1960s, but long after their creator died, his son revived the business in the 1980s, which turned out to be immensely popular among kids of the day and ever since. This lawsuit arose from a contract signed in 1968 between Ross Bagdasarian, the Chipmunk's creator, and Capitol Records, the successor-in-interest to Liberty Records, with whom Bagdasarian agreed the Chipmunk's albums would be made. However, over the years since, Capitol has licensed the sound recordings for many other purposes, such as background music in television and movies. This lawsuit alleged that such licensing overstepped the terms of the contract, which only provided Capitol the rights to make phonograph reproductions. Despite the 40 years that had passed since the contracts were signed, the court held that Plaintiff's actions were not barred by statutes of limitation or the doctrine of laches. Furthermore, the court interpreted the contract according to Plaintiff's reading; the agreement only gave Defendant permission to make records, but not to license the songs. Defendants' extrinsic evidence only reinforced this interpretation. Though copyrights do not apply to pre-1972 sound recordings, such as those subject to the 1968 contract, Plaintiff's intangible property right in the recordings were based in a California statute preventing "plagiarism" under an unfair competition rubric. The appellate court reversed the trial court's finding for Defendant as a matter of law. - LSW


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12. TV Producer vs. KISS Documentary
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Television Producer(s)
Defendants Television Network(s)
Television Producer(s)
Other KISS
Short Description Plaintiff, a segment producer from Gene Simmon's TV show, "Family Jewels," sued for misappropriation of identity and claimed his brief appearance as himself on the show "lacked consent." The court found for Defendant, Plaintiff consented. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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13. 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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14. Violent Nu-Metal Nuts Abuse Fans
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Washington
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Concert Attendee(s)
Defendants Music Proprietor(s)
Other Shinedown
Trapt
Short Description Plaintiffs, two concert-goers, were assaulted at a concert featuring Shinedown and Trapt (though the court spelled both their names wrong) and subsequently sued Defendant, the owner of the concert venue where they were assaulted, for negligence. Plaintiffs argued that Defendant owed them a duty to protect them from assault since the assailant had been previously kicked out of the venue for violent conduct and overagressiveness in the venue's "mosh pit", thus putting Defendant on notice of the danger that the assailant posed to Plaintiffs. The court found that no authority existed to support Plaintiffs argument, and affirmed the lower court's dismissal of their claims against the venue owner. Judgment for Defendant. - SKR (ed. LSW)


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15. Poison Clan Rapper vs. Record Label
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Lil' Joe Records
Music Publisher(s)
Other 2 Live Crew
Luke Records
Poison Clan
Short Description Band sued Luke Records after it went bankrupt and was unable to fulfill its contracts with Plaintiff. Judgment for Defendant. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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16. Artie Shaw's Mutual Will
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Spouse of Artist(s)
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Other Shaw, Artie
Short Description In a textbook example of a contract between two parties to make mutually beneficial wills, swing era band-leader Artie Shaw and his then-wife, actress Evelyn Keyes, contracted in the 1970s to leave each other half of their estates upon death. When shaw died in 2008, he failed to keep his end of the bargain, instead only leaving Keyes $30,000 in jewelry, not the $1.5 million she was owed under their contract. In a suit against Shaw's estate, Keyes obtained a jury verdict for the full amount. Thugh Shaw's estate argued the couple's later divorce (after the contracts were entered) revoked the contract, the court found the probate statute relating to revocation did not cover contracts, but only wills themselves. Shaw's estate tried other arguments, including claiming "undue influence," but the court was unmoved. Regardless of the probate laws, the parties had entered a valid contract, which Shaw breached. Further, the action was not untimely, because Plaintiff brought her action within the statute of limitations after Shaw's death, which was the date of his breach. Judgment for Plaintiff affirmed. - LSW


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17. Rod Stewart's Sore Throat = Breach?
Highest Court D. Nevada
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Music Promoter(s)
Defendants Business Entity of Artist(s)
Lawyer(s)
Stewart, Rod
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Stewart was supposed to perform for Plaintiffs for $2 million. When Stewart had throat surgery to remove a tumor and canceled the concert (after approving receiving $1 million and approving $500,000 for advertising), Plaintiff sued for refund of the money. Defendants not only failed to return the money, in the subsequent lawsuit, Defendants were so unprofessional in the handling of the case, sanctions were imposes by this court. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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18. Dre & Eminem Fight the Evidence
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Loussier, Jacques
Defendants Dr. Dre
Eminem
Interscope Records
Universal Music Group
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description A songwriter sued Eminem, Dr. Dre, and their record labels for copyright infringement. There were numerous holdings relating to evidentiary issues. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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19. Jimi Memorabilia a Fraud?
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Memorabilia Dealer(s)
Defendants Experience Hendrix
Other Hendrix, Jimi
Short Description The owner of a purportedly ex-Hendrix guitar put the instrument on eBay for sale. Hendrix's estate contacted eBay and asked for it to be removed, alleging it was either stolen or fake, which would be a violation of publicity and Lanham violation. After a minimum price of $200,000 was not reached, the auction was retracted, but Plaintiff sued Hendrix's estate for defamation and interference with contract. The trial court found for Plaintiff, but then granted a new trial due to insufficient evidence, and the court of appeals agreed. Here the appellate court denied Defendants' motions to exclude evidence, etc. - LSW


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20. Songwriter: "Manuelle es un Ladron!"
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Manuelle, Victor
Sony Discos
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is a songwriter alleging that his song "Hasta Hoy," which was copyrighted, registered, and recorded by the salsa group Orchesta La Rosa, was infringed by salsa singer Victor Manuelle's song "Tengo Ganas." On parties' motions for summary judgment, the court admitted expert testimony by Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, a common expert witness in such cases, despite, as Plaintiff alleged, Dr. Ferrara never having written "even one hit song." The Dr. is a professor at NYU, and the court held his testimony qualified, reliable, and relevant. In Ferrara's testimony, he went to great lengths in analyzing the musical similarities between the songs, even listing numbers of measures and beats in verses and choruses. Though Plaintiff alleged the two songs were nearly identical, Dr. Ferrara disagreed, finding few structual similarities, and finding the similarities to be "one of the most commonplace structural ideas in Western music." Further, melodic commonalities were all but nonexistent. Even according to the less-rigid "total concept and feel test," the court held for Defendants. By all accounts, Plaintiff's song was not copied by Manuelle, and Defendant's summary judgment was appropriate. - LSW


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