La-la-lawsuits: A look back at October & November’s most litigious moments

November 30th, 2011

The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from ASCAP of an earlier court decision that digital downloads are not performances.  The earlier, lower court ruling stands.

Adam Lambert is being sued by Colwel Platinum Entertainment.  The company claims that Lambert signed a Music Services Agreement and a Co-publishing Agreement with Colwel Platinum prior to auditioning for American Idol.  Colwel Platinum eventually released an Adam Lambert album following his success on the show.  The album, Beg for Mercy, was originally available for purchase on Amazon but was made unavailable following take down notices sent to Amazon from Lambert’s reps.  Colwel Platinum is suing Lambert for making a false claim under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and seeking declaratory relief that it owns a 50% publishing share of the recordings, that it has an unconditional right to promote and sell the recordings, that neither the Music Services Agreement nor the Co-Publishing Agreement was validly rescinded, and that these agreements remain in effect.  If the agreements were in effect at the time Lambert auditioned for Idol, Lambert could have been disqualified from the program as the agreements’ existence would be a violation of Idol’s rule that contestants not be subject to a recording or similar contract.

Classic Media, the owner of the fictional lovable canine character Lassie, is suing financial services firm J.G. Wentworth in a New York court for $1 million plus gains, alleging that the firm’s commercial featuring a similar look pup is copyright infringement.  THR published a thorough review of the case and discussion of relevant caselaw.

Kanye West is fighting an appeal of a case that was dismissed earlier this year, which alleged that West’s Grammy-winning song “Stronger” infringes the copyright of Vincent Peters.  The songs have some similar lyrics, both rhyming “stronger” with “wronger” and the underlying message is the same, but West argues that his inspiration for the theme actually came from 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche‘s maxim “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Peters argues that he gave a copy of his song to West’s manager, who passed it on to West. The case was dismissed earlier this year when a judge found that there was not substantial similarity between the two works.

Universal Music Group has sued Grooveshark for copyright infringement, alleging that Grooveshark employees illegally uploaded over 100,000 UMG song files.  It hasn’t been an easy road for the music streaming service. THR reports on Grooveshark’s recent legal issues:

UMG previously sued its owner, Escape Media Group, for providing access to the label’s pre-1972 songs. The company was also recently sued by a Danish coalition of rights holders and has been the subject of complaints by some artists such as King Crimson. Earlier this year, Google pulled Grooveshark from its Android market because of copyright concerns, and the company, based in Florida, only has a deal with one major record label, EMI.

In this most recent case, UMG is seeking maximum statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.   Grooveshark general counsel Marshall Custer commented:

“We have reviewed the Complaint that Universal Music Group filed  last Friday against Grooveshark in U.S. District Court in  Manhattan. Universal’s claims rest almost entirely on an anonymous, blatantly false internet blog comment and Universal’s gross mischaracterization of information that Grooveshark itself provided to Universal. While Universal has deliberately engaged the media prior to serving a copy of the Complaint on Grooveshark, Grooveshark intends to fight this battle before the Court, not in the press.  Grooveshark welcomes the opportunity to present the facts to the Court and has full confidence that it will prevail in the litigation.”

The Songwriters Guild of America has asked permission to file an amicus brief to be considered by the judge reviewing the copyright grant termination lawsuit surrounding The Village People‘s catalog of music, including hit song “Y.M.C.A.”  The issue in the case is whether the lead singer, one of many co-writers of the songs, can terminate the copyright grants without involvement from the other writers.