The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sprizzo, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Fort Knox Music, Inc., and Trio Music Company, Inc., bring
the instant action for declaratory judgment under the United States
Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. ("Copyright Act"), against
defendant Philippe Baptiste ("Baptiste"), seeking a declaration that
Baptiste is time-barred from commencing any action against plaintiffs
challenging plaintiffs' rights and copyright in the musical composition
"Sea of Love." Plaintiffs further seek a declaration that Baptiste is
guilty of laches and thus equitably estopped from commencing any such
action, an injunction barring Baptiste from exercising or claiming any
rights in and to the copyright in "Sea of Love," and an award of costs
and attorneys' fees pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505. Plaintiffs having
brought a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Baptiste having filed a pro se
response to plaintiffs' motion, and the Court having heard Oral
Argument, the Court grants plaintiffs' motion for judgment on the
pleadings. The Court further awards plaintiffs costs but denies
plaintiffs' application for an award of attorneys' fees.
This action arises from a dispute regarding the authorship of the
musical composition "Sea of Love." By a written agreement dated February
3, 1959, Baptiste and George Khoury ("Khoury") warranted to Kamar
Publishing Company ("Kamar"), the predecessor in interest of plaintiffs,
that they were co-authors of "Sea of Love" and assigned and transferred
to Kamar all of their interests in the original and renewal terms of
copyright in "Sea of Love." See Complaint ¶ 11. Thereafter, Kamar
registered claims to copyright in "Sea of
Love," and the Copyright Office issued registration certificates therefor
to Kamar bearing registration numbers Eu 589485 dated August 12, 1959 an
Ep 137454 dated September 29, 1959. See id. The registration certificates
identify Baptiste and Khoury as authors. See id. These copyrights have
subsequently been renewed, and from 1959 to present plaintiffs and their
predecessors-in-interest have actively engaged in exploiting and licensing
use of "Sea of Love." See id. ¶¶ 7, 9. Baptiste and Khoury have
consistently received credit as coauthors of "Sea of Love" in connection
with its exploitation and licensing, and Baptiste and Khoury have
received regular royalty payments from plaintiffs and their
predecessors-in-interest. See id. ¶ 9.
As early as 1959, Baptiste protested to plaintiffs'
predecessors-in-interest that Khoury had been improperly identified as the
co-author of "Sea of Love." See answer ¶¶ 10-11. Plaintiffs and their
predecessors-in-interest, however, continued to credit Khoury as
co-author, and Baptiste continued to object over the next four decades.
See Complaint ¶ 9; Answer ¶ 10 kind unnumbered exhibits attached
thereto. When, in 1997, Baptiste threatened to sue plaintiffs for
copyright infringement, Plaintiffs filed the instant action for
declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. See Complaint ¶ 17.
Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure directs that
judgment on the pleadings "is appropriate where the material facts are
undisputed and where a judgment on the merits is possible merely by
considering the contents of the pleadings." Sellers v. M.C. Floor
Crafters, 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir.1988). Here, the facts admitted by
Baptiste in his Answer demonstrate conclusively that the statute of
limitations bars any challenge by Baptiste to plaintiffs' copyright
rights based upon his claim of sole authorship.
Section 507 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 507, provides a
three-year statute of limitations for any civil action brought under the
provisions of the Act. A claim accrues, and the statute of limitations
thus begins to run, when a plaintiff "knows or has reason to know of the
injury upon which the claim is premised." Merchant v. Levy, 92 F.3d 51,
56 (2d Cir. 1996). In the instant action, it is clear that Baptiste knew
of his claimed injury more than three years prior to the commencement of
this action by plaintiffs in 1997. In paragraph 11 of Baptiste's Answer,
he pleads that
defendant has informed Fort Knox of the alleged
fraudulent contract since 1959, when defendant
realized that George Khoury was given credit as a
coauthor. Defendant admits Fort Knox has accounted to
him ("Baptiste") but at only half of the writer's
royalties defendant should be receiving. Defendant
contends that plaintiffs are illegally remitting
royalties to George Khoury based upon an alleged
fraudulent and forged contracts.
Answer ¶ 11. Baptiste further details in his Answer his persistent
objections that Khoury should not be credited as co-author and attaches
copies of his extensive correspondence with plaintiffs. One letter from
Baptist to Fort Knox, dated January 7, 1985, states:
I wrote and composed the words and music of "Sea of
Love" alone in 1957, but someone else has been and is
still sharing fifty percent (50%) of my song as a
co-writer for twenty-five (25) years, since 1959.
Please stop all royalties payments to the other party
and make full payments to me only because I am the
true and only writer and owner of "Sea of Love."
Answer, unnumbered exhibit. Thus, it is clear that Baptiste knew more
than three years prior to the commencement of this action that plaintiffs
and their predecessors-in-interest were crediting Khoury as co-author of
"Sea of Love" notwithstanding Baptiste's claim to be sole author. Any
action by Baptiste challenging plaintiffs' copyright rights in "Sea of
Love" on ...