La-la-lawsuits: A Look at July’s Most Litigious Moments

July 30th, 2012

In a challenge brought by the Intercollegiate Broadcasting Services (IBS), the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this month that the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) was unconstitutional in its current form as a violation of the Appointments Clause. The decision was based on the fact that the Library of Congress, which is in charge of appointing judges to the CRB, could previously only remove those judges for misconduct or neglecting their duties. Such restrictions on the Library’s power were enough to qualify the judges as “principal,” rather that “inferior,” officers, and principal officers can only be appointed by the President with Senate confirmation. The constitutional discrepancy was resolved instantly by the expansion of the CRB’s power to remove judges, qualifying them as inferior officers in the eyes of the constitution.


In a recent decision granting leave to take discovery, a district judge for the Southern District of the New York held that a copyrighted work illegally downloaded from a certain IP address does not necessarily mean that the owner of that IP address was the downloader. The judge went on to note a number of potential third parties who could be responsible in a variety of situations.


In another legal setback for Universal Music Group (UMG), Grooveshark defeated UMG’s motion to dismiss its counterclaim that UMG had engaged in tortuous interference in response to Grooveshark’s streaming of thousands of pre-1972 UMG recordings. Grooveshark is alleging that UMG used its size and industry influence to muscle Hewlett-Packard into canceling a $325,000 advertising deal and to muscle INgrooves into canceling a 2009 licensing agreement with the company that would’ve covered some of the pre-1972 recordings in question.  The initial dispute centers around UMG songs created before 1972, before Congress had updated copyright laws to afford protection to sound recordings. The catalogue includes artists like Buddy Holly, Marvin Gaye, Cat Stevens, and The Who. UMG is arguing that Grooveshark has been illegally streaming these songs for free to millions of customers and that its employees, including Grooveshark’s CEO, illegally uploaded more than 100,000 songs to the service.



The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that songwriters and publishers shouldn’t be paid performance royalties for downloads, videogame downloads, or preview samples on digital music stores. The court distinguished between downloads and streaming by comparing downloads to buying a CD– in which case the recording company collects — and streaming to listening to a song on the radio, where the station typically pays the artist via the music publisher or a copyright collective.


Courtney Love, front-woman of the band Hole and widow of singer Kurt Cobain, was sued by her former assistant, Jessica Labrie, this month  in Los Angeles Superior Court for wrongful termination, nonpayment, and breach of contract. The claim alleges that, not only had Love promised Labrie a “full-ride scholarship to Yale University,” work with her music management company, and $30 per hour for assistant services (which she allegedly never paid), Love also supposedly requested Labrie to falsify legal documents and to hire a hacker, which Labrie refused to do. The claim also alleges that as a result of her time working for Love, Labrie suffered from headaches, insomnia and other medical ailments.  Love’s publicist released a statement claiming that “The allegations are completely unfounded and are being made with malice by a disgruntled former employee.” However, the allegations come at a time when Love is also being sued by her former lawyer, who is currently seeking over $400,000 in unpaid legal fees.


In a suit seeking an injunction and $2 million in statutory damages for alleged trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and trademark dilution, former Live front-man Ed Kowalczyk is being sued by the company he and his former band mates started to manage Live’s business and intellectual property.  Kowalczyk left the band in 2009 and has since returned to music with a solo album entitled “Alive.” Shortly after his departure, Kowalczyk was replaced by another vocalist, but he is still said to be touring under the name “Ed Kowalczyk of Live.” The lawsuit accuses Kowalczyk of not informing the public he is no longer a member of Live and of not telling the public his music is no longer endorsed by the band, creating “confusion.” The suit also alleges that booking agents, theaters, arenas, and the press are being deceived by Kowalczyk’s actions.


In response to a July 11 issue of The National Enquirer accusing actor Tom Cruise of being “a monster” and of committing acts of “abuse,” “punishment,” and “humiliation” on his ex-wife, Katie Holmes, and their daughter, Suri, in “Tom’s House of Horrors,” Cruise’s lawyer has threatened to sue Enquirer publisher American Media for the “hundreds of millions of dollars of personal and professional damages” caused by the “disgraceful and lurid” cover story. The story even accuses Cruise of forcing his daughter to spend over 5 months in a small, windowless room.  Cruise’s lawyer has offered American Media an ultimatum, either “retract each and every one of your false allegations about Mr. Cruise with the same prominence and emphasis as you gave your original false and defamatory assertions” or face litigation.


Madonna is being sued for an unspecified amount by record company VMG Salsoul for allegedly using horn and string samples from a 1977 dance song by Salsoul Orchestra titled “Chicago Bus Stop (Ooh, I Love It)” in her 1990 hit song “Vogue.” VMG Salsoul is attempting to skirt potential statute of limitation issues by claiming that it only became aware of the samples after new detection technology brought the matter to their attention.