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1. 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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2. Yodeling for Royalties
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Antone's Records
Music Executive(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Walser, Don
Watermelon Records
Short Description Country musician Don Walser, known for his distinctive yodeling, signed an agreement with Watermelon Records, a little-known Austin-based country music record label, in 1994, only four years before the label went bankrupt and its assets were purchased by Defendant, Antone's Records, who, as luck would have it, later filed for bankruptcy itself. The latter bankruptcy underlies this dispute, brought by Walser's estate and family, alleging various causes of action against Antone's and associated entities, including breach of contract and fiduciary duties, fraud, and copyright infringement, requesting rescission, constructive trust, and piercing of the corporate veil. According to the court, it is undisputed that Defendants failed to tender appropriate royalties and royalty-statements to Walser, after assuming Watermelon's contracts. Though Plaintiffs were unable to state claims arising from Watermelon Records' bankruptcy and failure to pay Walser, the court allowed breach of contract claims against Defendants arising from their own failure to pay. The court found that Walser had performed fully under the agreement, but that Defendants plainly failed to live up to their part of the bargain, and did not cure their breach within 30 days of being warned by Walser's attorney; in this regard, Defendants were liable for around $30,000. Because monetary remedies were adequate, rescission of the fully-performed contract was not allowed, and, further, Plaintiff's claims for fraud and copyright infringement failed too. Further still, Plaintiffs were unable to show that any form of fiduciary relationship arose between Walser and the various record labels with whom he was contractually tied, inter alia, because Texas law has not found such a relationship between artist and label, and no relationship of trust otherwise existed. The court refused to hold the record labels' executives personally liable, finding that traditional doctrines like the "alter ego" test did not apply. Though most claims were denied, the contract breach claim resulted in a $30,000 award. - LSW


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3. Erre XI vs. Luny and Yankee
Highest Court D. Massachusetts
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Music Producer(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Daddy Yankee
El Cartel Records
LT's Benjamin Records
Luny Tunes
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Universal Music Group
Other Erre XI
Short Description Plaintiffs are a group a songwriters and producers who were, in various ways, involved in the songwriting or production of the album, "Luny Tunes Presents: Erre XI," which was an album, released by reggaeton production duo Luny Tunes, featuring a musical duo called Erre XI, which was assembled by Luny Tunes. Plaintiffs, based in Springfield, MA, were tapped by Luny Tunes to participate in the album's creation, and were flown to Puerto Rico to embark on the creative process. Plaintiffs allege that their work was not only central to the Erre XI album, but also an album by Daddy Yankee, and that, not only were they not paid appropriate royalties, but their work was falsely attributed to Yankee and Tunes. Plaintiffs alleged multiple causes of action against multiple defendants, including copyright infringement and vicarious infringement, infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. In this opinion, the court denied Universal's motion to dismiss the emotional distress, vicarious infringement, and breach of contract claims, finding Plaintiffs' claims sufficient to require additional fact-finding. However, Daddy Yankee, and his associated parties, were held not to be within the personal jurisdiction of the court (specific or general), which refused to "pierce the corporate veil" and find Yankee's corporate activities were attributable to Yankee personally. - LSW


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4. Ex-Recording Artist vs. Usher and Alicia
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Arista Records
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Dre & Vidal
Dupri, Jermaine
EMI April Music
EMI Music
Film Studio(s)
Hitco Music
Keys, Alicia
La Face Records
Music Executive(s)
Music Manager(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Songwriter(s)
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Sony Music
Sony/ATV Music
Toby, Ryan
Universal Music
Usher
Zomba Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The facts of this immense lawsuit--which involves numerous defendants--are somewhat unique. Oftentimes, unknown artists sue huge companies and successful artists alleging copyright infringement, usually with little-to-no evidence that the defendants ever knew of the plaintiff or plaintiff's songs. In this case, Plaintiff was a songwriter and recording artist who signed briefly with Alicia Key's record label, a subsidiary of J Records, and began recording songs to be released. After some of the songs were finished, the record label offered to buy some of her songs for use with other artists on the label, such as Usher. Plaintiff, recognizing that the agreements would divest her of all royalty and ownership rights--she'd be a "ghost writer"--refused the deal. According to Plaintiff, Defendants nevertheless used her songs on Usher's album, "Confessions," as well as with other artists on the label's roster. Unfortunately for Plaintiff, her song, "Caught Up," which was one that Defendants wanted to use, was nothing like the Usher song of the same name. The court compared both lyrics and melody between the two songs and found that, despite Plaintiff's allegations and undeniable claims of access, the Usher song was not copied from Plaintiff's. Perhaps the phrase "caught up" was copied, but that in-and-of-itself was insufficient to comprise copyright infringement. With the sole federal claim dismissed, the court declined jurisdiction over the remaining state claims, and Plaintiff's action was disposed of entirely. - LSW


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5. 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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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. 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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8. Van Zandt's Fam vs. Manager
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Child of Artist(s)
Estate of Artist(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Tour Manager(s)
Other Van Zandt, Townes
Short Description This adversary proceeding arose from the bankruptcy of Townes Van Zandt's former tour manager (Debtor), who, for some reason, owned a 50% interest in many of Van Zandt's songs. Zandt is a well-regarded loner songwriter from Texas, unrelated to other professional musicians with the same last name, such as Little Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band and the Van Zant brothers behind Skynyrd and .38 Special. The essential issue in this case was whether Van Zandt's heirs, and the controlling parties in his corporate entity, could recoup amounts owed them from a prior court decision against royalties otherwise owed to Debtor. Debtor had previously breached a settlement agreement between the parties by licensing his co-owned songs without accounting to the Van Zandts. Under traditional record contracts, advanced sums are recouped from royalties before paid to artists. Here, the Zandts sought to recoup court judgment amounts from royalties owed under he settlement. The court here held recoupment to be an equitable remedy with two requirements: 1) an overpayment to be recouped must have been made, and 2) the creditor's claim and amounts owed to the debtor must arise from the same transaction. In this case, the court found that the creditors claim and the royalties owed to Debtor arose from the settlement contract, so the prior judgment (for breach of the contract) could be recouped from the royalties. Debtor argued that the judgment was rendered in favor of the Van Zandts, while the royalties were owned by their record label, but the court found they arose from a single transaction. - LSW


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9. Reggaeton Investor vs. El Father
Highest Court D. Puerto Rico
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Investor(s)
Music Producer(s)
Record Label(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Hector El Father
Insurer(s)
Music Manager(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Hector El Father is a well-known and internationally-successful reggaeton producer and artist, sued here alongside his associated record label, production and management company, and their insurance companies. Plaintiffs include an unknown reggaeton artist and his investor/producer and record label, all suing Defendants for breaching various management and production contracts signed with the artist. The investor paid El Father and his associated entities up-front cash and paid for living arrangements, in exchange for production and management for the artist. The case says nothing of the facts of the breach, but it is clear Defendants did not live up to their end of the bargain. On Plaintiff's' motion for a default judgment in their favor, the court granted Plaintiffs around $600,000 combined, though El Father was protected by the automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy code. - LSW


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10. Labels Encourage Remy's Gangsterism?
Highest Court New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Concert Attendee(s)
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Remy Ma
Universal Music Group
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Defendant is Remy Ma, a female hip-hop artist allegedly known for her violent personality and music. Plaintiff was at Ma's birthday party, and, after a dispute erupted between the two, Ma shot Plaintiff in the stomach at close range. Plaintiff sued Remy Ma, but also included Ma's record label, music publisher, and assorted other music entities. Regarding the associated companies, Plaintiff alleged they negligently promoted her antisocial and dangerous behavior, and that signing her to a record contract constituted negligent hiring. Prior to this opinion, Ma was convicted of criminal assault, among other things. After Ma sought to stay this suit pending appeal of the criminal conviction, which the court denied (the verdict in the criminal trial was final, not pending, even if appeals were possible), the court found that the assorted music entities were not Ma's employer and could not be held liable for Ma's persona or behavior. Even if Plaintiff could show that the Defendants were Ma's employers, the contracts defining their relationship allegedly expired before the shooting incident, so there could be no liability anyway. - LSW


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11. Songwriter: "Dame Mi Gasolina!"
Highest Court E.D. Louisiana
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Daddy Yankee
Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records
Music Manufacturer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Universal Music Group
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description As commonly occurs, Plaintiff, an unknown songwriter, sued Defendant, a well-known music star, for copyright infringement of Plaintiff's song, although the only noticeable similarity between the two tunes was the name. Defendants include Daddy Yankee, the godfather of reggaeton and author of the song "Gasolina," and the various record labels and music companies associated with the song's release. Plaintiff is a New Orleans-based songwriter who wrote a song with the same name that sold less than 2,000 copies and received limited airplay on a local radio station. Further, Plaintiff alleged he gave a copy of the CD to a Cuban group called Maraca, which is influential in New York and Puerto Rico, where Yankee is well-known. The court found that Plaintiff's allegations did not adequately indicate Yankee had "access" to the work, and, further, than the songs were not substantially similar, other than the name, which was not copyrightable. Defendant's summary judgment was granted. - LSW


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12. Obscure Disco Royalty Dispute
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Music Distributor(s)
Music Executive(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Air Power
Short Description Air Power is an obscure disco act that released several singles in 1978, each of which is subject to this dispute, that received limited-but-noteworthy public reception. Defendants are various companies--record labels, publishers, distributors--involved in the release of the singles, and the executive at their helms. Plaintiff, one of Air Power's principal songwriters, producers, and publishers, alleged that he was never paid any royalties from the original release of the songs in 1978, though one song sold around 25,000 copies within a few weeks. He sued for fraud, breach of contract, and termination of the copyrights granted to Defendants. On a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, the court found for Defendant. Plaintiff had no right to terminate the grant to Defendants, because Plaintiff was only one of two co-authors, and his co-writer did not agree to termination. Regarding the breach of contract and fraud claims, Plaintiff's case may have been successful, if only it was brought 25 years earlier. Now there's a little something called the statute of limitations. - LSW


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13. Norteno Rockeros Butt Heads
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Texas
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Martinez, Freddie
Record Label(s)
Defendants Ayala, Ram?n (y Los Bravos del Norte)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This case is somewhat sad, given that the two parties, norteno musician/three-time Grammy winner Ramon Ayala and his label manager/longtime friend Freddie Martinez, had a long-standing professional and personal relationship since the 1970s without formal written contractual agreements. Here, Martinez sued Ayala, alleging Ayala did not live up to his contractual duties; Ayala alleges he did not receive proper royalties. The court granted Ayala's non-suit injunction, thus preventing Martinez from bringing multitudinous or duplicitous lawsuits. - LSW


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14. Who Owns "Expose" Mark?
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Music Promoter(s)
Talent Agent(s)
Other Expos?
Short Description This is a trademark dispute between the band Expose (an all-girl, early 1990s singing group) and a film company that owns a trademark in the name for music performance-related products, regarding ownership of the name. During settlement negotiations between the band and Plaintiff's predecessor-in-interest during the mid-1990s, the band admitted Plaintiff's predecessor owned the name, and entered a trademark license agreement stating as much. In 2007, the band's legal counsel sent a letter saying Plaintiffs did not actually own the name, stating that the band would seek to register it for themselves. Plaintiffs brought suit for trademark infringement and unfair competition, among numerous other related causes of action. The band's entities counterclaimed, alleging the earlier settlements were induced by fraud, and requesting rescission of the settlement. After venue was found to be proper, the court held that--while the contract cannot be rescinded because Plaintiff was not a party to settlement negotiations, but merely purchased the name from that party--Defendants' counterclaim for fraud was validly stated. Justifiable reliance required further fact-finding, and could not be dismissed summarily. - LSW


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15. Indian Song Sampled by The Game
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Record Label(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Aftermath Records
G-Unit
Interscope Records
Timbaland
Universal Music Group
Warner Bros. Music
Other Game (The)
Short Description Plaintiffs purport to own copyrights to a 1967 Indian song "Baghon Mein Bahar Hai," from the 1969 Indian film, "Aradhana," and allege that Defendants, The Game, his publisher, and record label, sampled a snippet from the song (a barely-audible "na na na" sung by the female lead). While the court found the song did indeed sample Plaintiff's recording, Plaintiff could not show ownership of the copyrights, and regardless, Defendant's use was so short, and the final song sounded so completely different from the sample recording, the court held for Defendants. - LSW


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16. Salsa Kings Sue Record Label
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Cruz, Bobby
Family of Artist(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Ray, Richie
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, are famed salsa musicians who supposedly repudiated their contracts with defendants after Defendants' "breached" by not paying or accounting royalties. They then sued for copyright infringement and rescission of the contract, when Defendants continued to exploit the compositions recorded under the agreement. The court found Plaintiffs were in no position the rescind contract; rescission is an equitable remedy and an extreme measure for the court to take. The contract contained no provision allowing for rescission upon underpayment of royalties, Defendants' actions were not so material as to defeat the object of the contract, and damages would be available to Plaintiffs if Defendant were in breach. Since their repudiation was invalid, there was no action for copyright infringement either. Defendants' summary judgment granted. - LSW


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17. Lil' Jon's Copyright Trouble (III)
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Defendants Artist(s)
Lil' Jon (and the East Side Boys)
Record Label(s)
TVT Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff was a friend of Lil' Jon, hanging out at the studio, when they decided to buy some weed. Good call. After an impromptu song, "The Weedman" emerged from the experience, Lil' decided to record it, and Plaintiff, who was neither given copyright interest in the song nor reimbursed, sued. The court held that by teaching the song to Lil' Jon without any restrictions, Plaintiff had granted Lil' an implied license, and Defendant's summary judgment was granted on the infringement. Similarly, Plaintiff's claim for breach of fiduciary duty was summarily dismissed. - LSW


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18. Moments Owe Plaintiff Moneys?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Moments
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Rhino Records
Robinson, Sylvia
Sanctuary Records
Sugar Hill Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is a songwriter who provided the Moments' producer with a song to be recorded in 1977, but when the song was not produced, Plaintiff was given back his original lyrics and told it would not be done. However, the Moments did record the song in 1980, and even though it was never released at the time, its inclusion in a box set in 1999 sparked the copyright dispute at issue. Over several court opinions, venue was found proper, the action was not barred by statutes of limitation, and several corporate Defendants' motions to dismiss were granted as to them, since Plaintiff alleged no infringement activities in the U.S. - LSW


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19. 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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20. Reggaeton Showdown
Highest Court D. Puerto Rico
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Eliel
Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Daddy Yankee
El Cartel Records
Luny Tunes
Music Publisher(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Three of the biggest names in "reggaeton" music production and performance are represented in this suit, between the genre's godfather, Daddy Yankee, and producers Eliel and Luny Tunes. Eliel originally brought suit against Yankee, alleging that he was a co-author of certain Yankee songs for which he was not given proper credit. He filed a declaratory judgment action, requesting accounting. Yankee originally tried dismissing the complaint because Eliel failed to follow registration formalities, but the court held, as Plaintiff asserted, that registration is only a prerequisite for an infringement action, not declaratory judgment. The district court then denied Plaintiff's summary judgment. Though evidence supported Eliel's contentions, there were issues left to be litigated. Joint authorship requires both (1) that the two parties' contributions are independently copyrightable, and (2) that the parties intended to join their work into a final product. In this case, not enough was known about the circumstances of the song's production to rule summarily. In a later opinion, after Eliel added Luny Tunes as co-Defendant, the court dismissed Luny Tunes' counterclaims against Eliel, since they were based on earlier songs outside the limitations period and were not part of the same transaction as the songs Plaintiff sued on; the counterclaims were time-barred and, since they were not compulsory, were not tolled by the filing of Plaintiff's suit. - LSW


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