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SANTRAYLL v. BURRELL

January 15, 1998

RENE SANTRAYLL, et al., Plaintiffs, against KIRK BURRELL, et al., Defendants.

Peter K. Leisure, U.S.D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEISURE

LEISURE, District Judge :

 Defendants Kirk Burrell, p/k/a M.C. Hammer ("Hammer"), Bust It Publishing, Bustin' Management, Inc., a/k/a Bust It Management/Productions, Capitol Records, Inc. and Pepsico Inc. move this Court for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, based on alleged omissions on copyright registration forms. Plaintiffs oppose the motion for summary judgment, and move in limine to preclude defendants from introducing at trial evidence of the facts surrounding these alleged omissions. For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion is denied and the plaintiffs' motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiffs Rene Santrayll and Michael Walker comprise "The Legend" a rap music group that holds the copyright to two versions of the same composition. The first version is entitled "In Full Effect" and the second is entitled "Uh-Oh". "Uh-Oh" is only a minor revision of "In Full Effect", and for purposes of this motion the two are interchangeable ("Plaintiffs' Song"). Plaintiffs' Song contains a constantly-repeated chorus of the phrase "Uh-Oh" sung in a distinctive syncopated rhythm with an alternating two-note musical pattern. This pattern is designed to be the "hook" of the Plaintiffs' Song; that is, the distinctive element of Plaintiffs' Song.

 Hammer is an internationally famous rap star. In 1990, following the creation of Plaintiffs' Song, Hammer wrote and recorded "Here Comes the Hammer" (Defendant's Song). Defendant's Song, featuring a distinctive repeated chorus of "Uh-Oh" as its hook, became a huge hit single from the wildly successful "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" album. Defendant's Song was so popular, in fact, that defendants Pepsico, Inc. and Jack Schwartz Shoes, Inc. d/b/a British Knights used the "Uh-Oh" chorus of Defendant's Song in television advertisements for their products.

 Santrayll and Walker, along with Eric Colodne, d/b/a Bara Joy Music Company, allege that Hammer infringed on the copyright held by plaintiffs. The defendants seek summary judgment on the theories of unclean hands and fraud on the United States Copyright Office. In Plaintiffs' Song, plaintiffs "sampled" (incorporated portions of another song directly into theirs) guitar riffs from a song titled "Back In Love" by the group LTD, copied a melodic line from "Everything She Wants" by George Michael, and used portions of the theme from the television show "S.W.A.T." *fn1" Santrayll and Walker admit that they did not disclose the use of these prior works to the Copyright Office in their registration applications. The defendants claim that these omissions render the copyrights for Plaintiffs' Song incapable of enforcement and that defendants therefore are entitled to summary judgment. Plaintiffs argue that the Court should preclude the introduction of any facts surrounding plaintiffs' alleged omissions under Rules 401, 402, and 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Standard for Summary Judgment

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When considering a motion for summary judgment, it is this Court's responsibility "not to resolve disputed issues of fact but to assess whether there are any factual issues to be tried, while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party." Knight v. U.S. Fire Insurance Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1986). Nonetheless, summary judgment "is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986).

 "A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion." 477 U.S. at 325 (internal citations omitted). "The burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. (internal citations omitted). The burden of demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue of material fact then shifts to the non-moving party. See id. at 322-23. The non-moving party may not rely solely on its pleadings nor on conclusory factual allegations in satisfying this burden. See Gray v. Darien, 927 F.2d 69, 74 (2d Cir. 1991). The non-moving party instead must offer specific evidence supporting its claim that there exists a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. In demonstrating that the factual issue in dispute is "genuine", the non-moving party must offer evidence to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

 II. Unclean Hands and Fraud on the Copyright Office

 Where an individual obtains a certificate of registration from the Copyright Office, such certificate "constitute[s] prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate." 17 U.S.C. ยง 410(c). However, a certificate of registration does not create an irrebuttable presumption of copyright validity. See Durham Industries, Inc. v. Tomy Corp., 630 F.2d 905, 908 (2d Cir. 1980). In fact, the failure to alert the Copyright Office of relationships between the work for which registration is sought and prior works of others specifically endangers the presumption of validity. See Past Pluto Productions Corp. v. Dana, 627 F. Supp. 1435, 1440 n.5 (S.D.N.Y. 1986).


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