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1. 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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2. Leiber & Stoller vs. Napster
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2001
Plaintiffs Frank Music
Leiber & Stoller
Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Napster
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Leiber & Stoller sued Napster? Yes, they did. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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3. Who Owns Classic Songs?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Leiber & Stoller
Range Road Music
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Music Distributor(s)
Trust of Artist(s)
Other DeLange, Eddie
Mercer, Johnny
Van Heusen, Jimmy
Short Description Plaintiffs were purportedly transferred renewal rights in the copyright interest to two songs written by Jimmy Van Heusen, "I Thought About You," co-written with Johnny Mercer, and "Darn That Dream," co-written with Eddie DeLange. Van Heusen's successors later transferred the renewal rights after notice and termination of the first term. Despite a contractual waiver of legal action, the court found the transfer to Plaintiffs invalid because, according to this court, renewal rights cannot be transferred until after termination of the initial period finishes and the second period vests. - LSW


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4. Phil Spector vs. Leiber & Stoller
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1989
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Other Leiber & Stoller
Spector, Phil
Short Description Phil Spector isn't known for being easy to work with, and this lawsuit contains inklings of precisely why. Defendant is a music publisher (Trio) incorporated in 1960 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the songwriting duo known colloquially as "Leiber & Stoller," who wrote some of the biggest hits of the mid-century R&B and rock n' roll industry, including "Hound Dog." Spector formed the Plaintiff company the same day he filed this lawsuit, though he'd previously operated one legitimate company under the same name and feigned others at various times. The lawsuit related to a contract between the parties from 1972, in which Leiber & Stoller agreed to pay Spector royalties on certain songs they composed, such as "Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love" and "Da Do Run Run." That contract was between the original Mother Bertha and Trio, not Spector's current company. Defendants sought to dismiss, alleging either Plaintiff was incorporated solely for diversity jurisdiction or the original entity had continued as a de factor corporation and thus the new entity could not confer jurisdiction. The court, however, refused both theories, and allowed litigation to proceed. Spector had at least facially-valid explanations for his incorporation. If it later comes out Spector did indeed incorporate to fabricate diversity, it will be relevant then. - LSW


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5. Battle Over "Hound Dog" Rights
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1957
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Otis, Johnny
Defendants Leiber & Stoller
Music Publisher(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Johnny Otis was a band leader, producer, and--relevant here--the owner of a music publishing company, which is the Plaintiff in this suit. Otis arranged for a recording of the R & B classic, "Hound Dog, " wtitten by in infamous Jewish songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, performed by Big Mama Thornton, and released by Peacock Records. This version was published through Spin Music, in which Otis had an interest. By arranging the session, Otis said he was granted a 1/3 interest in royalties the song, which was relatively standard practice at the time. However, he also incorrectly included himself as a "co-author," also relatively standard at the time, and represented himself as such in dealings with a third-party publisher, Lion Music. When Lion noticed that the three signatures on the contract matched Otis's, Lion inquired of Leiber & Stoller, and were told Otis was in fact not a co-author, but merely owed 1/3 of the royalties received by Spin Music. An agreement was reached in which Otis admitted as much and received $750 in release of all claims he may have regarding the song. Lion licensed the song to Elvis Presley's publisher for his well-known iteration, which was released crediting only Leiber & Stoller as this song's authors. The version was obviously very successful, and Otis's publishing company sued, alleging Otis co-authored of the song and thus Plaintiff was owed royalties. The court, based on the facts of the song's composition and the signed release, refused Otis's claim, and the credit and royalties went to Leiber & Stoller. - LSW


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