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1. Coca-Copyright Case
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Vergara, Rafa
Defendants Coca-Cola
Other Bisbal, David
K'naan
Short Description Rafa Vergara isn't as well known as the other names associated with this suit, but he is a very accomplished songwriter, producer, and performer, whose contributions to Latin stars like Marc Anthony and Jaci Velasquez have garnered significant success in the music business. Coca Cola, through Universal Music, contacted Vergara about adapting English lyrics by the artist K'naan into Spanish, to be sung by David Bisbal, for an upcoming Coca Cola advertisement during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer Games. Vergara, with full permission, translated the lyrics and also produced the song. When Vergara sent a bill to Universal, they asked him to sign a document clarifying that his work was done "for hire," which means he did not own the copyright in his own contributions. Vergara brought suit, alleging copyright infringement and requesting a preliminary injunction preventing Coca-Cola from airing the commercial without proper attribution, as he was guaranteed. The court granted Vergara's request, finding that the work was not "for hire," and, further, that he was not a joint author but the sole author of the derivative composition. Irreparable harm was also likely without injunctive relief. However, summary judgment was later granted to Coke's on the copyright infringement claim, despite Vergara's contentions, because Vergara had, in writing, assigned his copyrights to Coke via email communications; the Copyright Act requires assignments to be in writing, and the communications met this requirement. Nonetheless, a preliminary injunction was upheld against Coke in a later opinion because the lack of attribution, which was plainly promised to Vergara, was still likely to cause harm. - LSW


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2. 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. Composer Wants "Medici" Trademark
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Rose, Jerome
Defendants Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff, a company created by accomplished concert pianist Jerome Rose to market his DVDs and CDs, sued Defendant, a distributor of classical music under the labels "Medici Arts" and "Medici Masters", for infringement and unfair use of its trademark under the Lanham Act and NY state law. The court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment, holding that the trademarks in dispute are dissimilar and unlikely to cause confusion among prospective purchasers, and that Plaintiff failed to establish bad faith, actual confusion, or a likelihood of confusion. - SKR


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4. Photographer: "Marley Photos Are Mine!"
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Photographer(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Music Merchandiser(s)
Other Marley, Bob
Short Description In a different case, "Bob Marley Bootleggers Busted," Defendant A.V.E.L.A., a music merchandiser, was sued by the exclusive licensee of Bob Marley's publicity rights and trademarks for improperly using Marley's likeness and names on various merchandise. This related case was brought by the photographer who provided the infringing photographs to A.V.E.L.A. After the first lawsuit erupted, A.V.E.L.A. withheld royalty payments to Plaintiff, alleging any payments he was due to receive were offset by their litigation costs from the Marley lawsuit. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants' legal issues were unrelated to his own responsibilities under the parties' agreements, and costs should not have been counted against him. Plaintiff asked for and was granted a preliminary injunction preventing A.V.E.L.A. from using moneys owed to Plaintiff to cover legal costs from the other suit. On appeal, the injunction was affirmed. The injunction was not overly broad; though the licensing agreement dictated amounts Plaintiff was to be paid, Defendants were not able to show that these were the only amounts he would be granted if successful. Furthermore, the appellate court did not find the trial court abused its discretion in finding both that Plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief and that there was a reasonable probability that Plaintiff would prevail on his claim. - LSW


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5. Which Grupo Bryndis is Legit?
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Grupo Bryndis
Short Description Grupo Bryndis is an internationally-known Mexican musical group that has existed in some form continuously since 1983. Plaintiffs in this case are the band's recognized leader and the corporation he controls. Despite the band's successes, it appears no one had ever applied for and received a federal trademark for their name. Defendants are former members of the group who formed a new band, initially called Bohemios de Bryndis, that later began billing itself as Grupo Bryndis, and then filed a trademark application for the name. Plaintiff sued for numerous trademark- and property-related causes of action, requesting a preliminary injunction preventing the band from using the name further. The court found that, despite the confusion that might occur among the band's fans due to two different bands using the same name, monetary damages were sufficient to remedy any harm done to Plaintiff, and thus a preliminary injunction, which requires irreparable harm causing damage that cannot be cured by adequate remedies at law, was inappropriate. - LSW


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6. Raps About Pac Too Similar?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records
Universal Music
Universal Music Group
Other Hamilton, Anthony
Jadakiss
Short Description Plaintiff is an unknown songwriter and hip-hop artist, alleging that Jadakiss and Anthony Hamilton infringed Plaintiff's song, "Thugz Prayer," in Defendants' song, "Why." Both songs deal with the untimely deaths of 2pac, Notorious B.I.G., and Aaliyah, and both songs repeat the word "why" in doing so. Plaintiff brought numerous causes of action, not just copyright infringement, including trademark-related claims. The court held that all but the copyright infringement claim were either preempted by the Copyright Act or, as with the trademark claims, foreclosed by Supreme Court decisions differentiating between copyright and trademark actions. Furthermore, the copyright infringement claim fell short. Both Plaintiff and Defendants' song involve issues in the public consciousness, the death of certain celebrities, and commentary on that subject cannot be protected by copyright. Asking "why," in relation to their deaths is equally unprotectible. The court refused to find "comprehensive non-literal similarity," because Plaintiff failed to demonstrate the "fundamental essence or structure" of his work or how Defendant copied that essence or structure. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings was granted, though Plaintiff was given time to amend his complaint. - LSW


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7. Christian Country Song in School?
Highest Court M.D. Florida
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants Municipal Entity and/or Official(s)
Public Shool(s)
Other Diamond Rio
Short Description The family of a child sued to enjoin the practicing and performance of a song by country music artist, Diamond Rio, called "In God We Trust," which is absurdly favorable to religion, even saying "There are those among us who want to push [God] out and erase His name from everything," but that "it's time for all believers to make our voices heard," and "Here in America He's the one we turn to." Obviously, this cannot pass the Lemon test for state actions, which requires them to be secular in intent and impact, and the court granted the family's injunction. - LSW


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8. Hagar's Taco Business Bumbles
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Restaurant Proprietor(s)
Other Hagar, Sammy
Short Description Red Head, Inc. licensed Rock Hard Taco to use the name and likeness of Sammy Hagar in connection with their Taco restaurant, Cabo Wabo Cantina. When Defendant's restaurant failed to live up to Plaintiff's expectations, Defendant was notified of the breach and told to cease using trademarks. The court granted Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction, requiring Defendants to change their menus so as not to associate itself with Sammy Hagar or anything evincing his likeness. The court granted Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction--there was a likelihood of success on the merits and imminent injury to Hagar's reputation if Defendants continued--but refused Plaintiff's request to attach Defendant's property by court order, saying there was no reason to assume Defendant would be unable to follow through on its financial obligations. - LSW


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9. Lil Wayne Unhappy with Quincy's Film
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Lil' Wayne
Defendants Film Producer(s)
Jones, Quincy
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This case involved a dispute regarding an agreement between Lil' Wayne and Defendant to produce a 90-minute biographical film about Lil' Wayne's life. Lil' Wayne argued that Defendant breached a provision in the contract granting him "a sole right of final approval" for scenes that might depict him engaged in criminal behavior, or that might adversely affect his pending gun possession and drug possession cases in New York and Arizona, respectively. The Defendant allegedly breached this provision by including a scene in the film depicting Lil' Wayne engaging in criminal activity by "misusing medication," despite Lil Wayne's objections to that scene's inclusion in the film. Lil' Wayne sought a preliminary injunction against Defendant, but the contract that he signed contained an anti-injunction provision. Despite Lil' Wayne's argument that the anti-injunction provision is unconscionable since Defendant refused to negotiate it, the Court enforced the provision, denying Lil' Wayne an injunction. Judgment for Defendant. - SKR


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10. Film About Elvis Infringe El's Rights?
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Elvis Presley Enterprises
Financial Institution(s)
Leiber & Stoller
Photographer(s)
Defendants Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Individual(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description The Defendant produced a 16-hour video about Elvis' life. As part of the video, it included selections from The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis 1968 Comeback, and The Steve Allen Show. Also, the Plaintiff owned the copyright to some of Elvis' music. The Court noted that Elvis' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is licensed at $10,000 a minute. In the video, a narrator would sometimes overdub the copyrighted footage, which accounted for about 10% of the movie. The footage also played with the original audio. There was no question the Defendant knew it did not have license for the material; the copyright holder refused the Defendant's request because it was preparing it own video. The Plaintiffs' moved for a preliminary injunction, which was granted. On appeal, the Court was looking only for blatantly incorrect legal or factual conclusions by the trial court. The Court found that the Plaintiffs brought the suit promptly after determining what the video actually depicted. The Plaintiffs would likely have been barred from bringing suit before they knew the content under a theory called prior restraint. The only issue before the Court was whether the Plaintiffs had a probability at succeeding at showing the Defendant did not engage in fair use. Fair use is not copyright infringement based upon an analysis of factors, such as, the purpose of the use, whether commercial or not; the nature of the use; the amount of the portion used in relation to the whole of the copyrighted work; and the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work. For the first factor, the commercial nature of the video weighs against fair use, but by using the clips in a new work, the Defendant may have transformed the work into a new creation. The clips were not consistently transformed, and in fact, the video was made to profit commercially from the clips - this wasn't a history lesson. For the nature of the work, the video and music used were creative, but because of Elvis' life, they also possessed a newsworthy perspective. The Court found the news aspect overwhelmed by the creative nature. The Court next found that the length and repetitious nature of the clips' usage favored the Plaintiffs. Even where only short portions were used, the Court found that those brief seconds were the "heart of the work" and what gave the images their value. Last, the Defendant's video would effect the market for the copyrighted materials because of their commercial nature and lack of transformation. While the last factor did not weight strongly for either side, the other factors favored the Plaintiffs, so the injunction was upheld. In dissent, one Judge found that the district court made too many factual errors concerning the transformative nature of the work. In the dissent, the Judge criticized the court's wholesale adoption of fact findings prepared by the Plaintiff. - JMC


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11. Counterfeit Metal, Mode, and Moz Merch
Highest Court E.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Bravado International
Defendants Bootlegger(s)/Counterfeiter(s)
Individual(s)
Website Proprietor(s)
Other Clash
Cradle of Filth
Depeche Mode
Guns n' Roses
Iron Maiden
Korn
Led Zeppelin
Morrissey
Motörhead
Short Description The Defendants are some businesses and people who were illegally creating t-shirts infringing on Korn, Iron Maiden, Guns 'N' Roses, and Depeche Mode. The Plaintiffs, who hold the licenses for merchandising in the U.S. for many bands, filed for a preliminary injunction, which the court granted. In 2004, the Plaintiffs had filed a suit in California against t-shirt bootleggers and learned that these defendants were the manufacturers, obtaining a judgment against them in 2005. In 2008, the Plaintiffs purchased bootleg shirts from the Defendants' website. The U.S. Marshals seized silk screens, t-shirts, and business records. The Plaintiffs can obtain a preliminary injunction if they can show irreparable harm and either a likelihood of success or a balance of hardships and a chance at successful litigation. To win at the trademark infringement, they had to show a protected trademark and that consumers would be confused by the Defendants' knockoffs. The Court found there to be little question that counterfeit products, by their nature, cause confusion to consumers. - JMC


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12. Ex-Girlfriend vs. 50 Cent
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Girlfriend of Artist(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description A longtime girlfriend to Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), who is also mother to his child, sued 50 for numerous causes of action after he "made it big," alleging he had earlier promised, in return for supporting him while he was struggling and newly paroled, that "when he makes it big, he will take care of [her] for the rest of [her] life." When 50's celebrity and bank account grew, he pushed for Plaintiff (and provided funds) to start a career investing in properties. After the relationship strained, 50 began sleeping around and allegedly hitting Plaintiff, they split, and Plaintiff filed this suit. It could be taught in first year Contracts classes, as it deals with oral contracts and equitable relief that may arise when such promises are unenforceable. The trial court found that Plaintiff stated causes of action for breach of contract, breach of joint venture agreement, partition of property, and various equitable actions, holding that unmarried cohabitants were legally able to contract regarding financial matters. In its final disposition, however, the court dismissed the complaint in its entirety. Any contract-based claims were blocked by lack of specificity in the original promise or by the Statute of Frauds, as not performable within one year. The court found for 50 Cent on every other cause of action, denying petition of property and dismissing assault and battery (outside the statute of limitations), fraud, and others. Plaintiff's "unjust enrichment" action was also insufficient; 50 had since taken care of Plaintiff, even if she originally took care of him. - LSW


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13. Chic Writers vs. Chic Singers
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Rodgers, Nile
Defendants Former Band Member(s)
Other Chic
Short Description Nile Rodgers sued to prevent former female members from advertising their own tour using the name "The Ladies of Chic" or the "Former Ladies of Chic." Judgment for Plaintiff. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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14. Battle Over Doors' Name
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Densmore, John
Estate of Artist(s)
Defendants Astbury, Ian
Doors of the 21st Century
Kreiger, Robby
Manzarek, Ray
Music Promoter(s)
Other Cult
Doors
Morrison, Jim
Short Description John Densmore and other assorted Doors-related parties sued Ray Manzarek, Robby Kreiger, Ian Astbury (of The Cult!), and other associated entities for touring under the name "The Doors of the 21st Century," alleging numerous causes of action arising from the band's moniker's intentional similarity to the original Doors' name. The holding in Plaintiffs' favor led to Manzarek's subsequent insurance suit in "Who Insures Doors' Litigation?" - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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15. Anti-Evolution Doc Uses "Imagine"?!?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs EMI Music
Lennon, Julian
Lennon, Sean
Ono, Yoko
Defendants Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Other Lennon, John
Short Description Yoko Ono and Sean and Julian Lennon sued the makers of "Expelled," a documentary about the absurd pseudo-science called "intelligent design," when the filmmakers used clips of Lennon's song "Imagine," which famously invites listeners to imagine there's "Nothing to kill and die for, no religion too." Lennon was well-known for his criticisms of traditional religious doctrine. Plaintiffs sued for copyright infringement and federal trademark infringement. Though the documentary used other songs, "Imagine" was the only one for which no license was sought. On Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction regarding their copyright claims, the court found that irreparable harm was imminent and that Plaintiffs stated a prima facie claim for copyright infringement, but refused the injunction on (arguably shaky) First Amendment grounds. The court cited the doctrine of "fair use": the song's presence was loosely commercial but "transformative," only 15-seconds long, and only minimally impacted the song's potential market for Plaintiff's exploitation. Since the balance of hardships did not tip decidedly in Plaintiff's favor, the injunction was denied. Given how courts have held on issues of admitted sampling, no matter how insignificant and unnoticeable the samples are, this holding seems a bit odd. - LSW


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16. Jonathan Lee Riches' Craziness (IV)
Highest Court D. South Carolina
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Riches, Jonathan Lee
Defendants Assorted Celebrities
Newton-John, Olivia
Travolta, John
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is Jonathan Lee Riches, a well-known Plaintiff, incarcerated for mail fraud, who has sued numerous celebrities for ridiculous reasons and has even received a decent amount of media attention. Here, as always, his rambling complaints were dismissed. - LSW


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17. 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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18. "Son of Sam Law" vs. Shyne
Highest Court New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants Business Entity of Artist(s)
Lawyer(s)
Shyne
Other Island Def Jam Records
Short Description Shyne was involved in a shootout which sent him to prison. This case is the civil trial, in which victims sought to prevent disbursement of his $500,000 advance through New York's "Son of Sam" law. Granted and affirmed on appeal. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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19. Songwriter's Transfers Fraudulent?
Highest Court N.D. Oklahoma
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Ham, Bill
Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Spouse of Artist(s)
Other Williams, Jerry Lynn
Short Description Jerry Lynn Williams was a very successful songwriter, responsible for country hits by Delbert McClinton and Bonnie Rait, as well as songs by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. This lawsuit involved his ex-wife, and stemmed from a prior arbitration between Williams and Plaintiffs, decided in Plaintiffs favor, over the rights to foreign and domestic publishing royalties. The judgment in Plaintiffs favor was apparently to be satisfied with royalties and various other assets controlled by Williams and his wife. After the Williamses divorced, Plainitff brought this suit, alleging their division of property violated the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act, as it was executed so as to prevent Plaintiffs from accessing their property. In the interim, Jerry Lynn died. Plaintiffs argued, in addition to the fraudulent transfers, that the Williams wife had absconded with a gold watch and lied about the location of property and bank accounts. In several court decisions, it was held Mrs. Williams should be sanctioned for failure to comply with certain discovery requests, but that Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction should be denied. While Mrs. Williams (and perhaps her now-dead husband) had perhaps acted inappropriately, Plaintiff failed to show a likelihood of insolvency, so as to justify enjoining the Mrs. from transfering or encumbering any of the property Plaintiff sought through this lawsuit. - LSW


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20. 50 Cent Cancels Another Concert
Highest Court E.D. Virginia
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Music Promoter(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Other Elliot, Missy
Violator Management
Short Description G*Town Entertainment, Inc., entered into a contract with Defendant, Iris.com, to have 50 Cent (and Missy Elliot) perform in Gabon, Africa. Negotiations fell through, and the performance did not occur, but 50 Cent nonetheless received $150,000 in compensation per the terms of the contract. Iris.com moved to compel arbitration according to the arbitration clause of the contract, but 50 Cent filed a motion to suspend arbitration. The court found that there were no issues of material fact to be disputed, granted summary judgment for the defendant, and required the parties to go forward with arbitration proceedings. - SKR & LSW


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