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JAMES v. UNIVERSAL MOTOWN RECORDS

United States District Court, S.D. New York


December 10, 2004.

ROBERT JAMES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNIVERSAL MOTOWN RECORDS, INC., et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEWIS KAPLAN, District Judge

ORDER

Plaintiffs are the proprietors of the copyrights in two musical works. They bring this action principally against defendant Universal Motown Records, Inc. ("Motown") for infringement on the theory that Motown prepared works derivative of plaintiffs. See 17 U.S.C. § 106(2). They have added other, less well defined claims against other defendants, which has led to the present motion by defendant Jelly's Jams, L.L.C., ("JJ") for judgment on the pleadings dismissing the second (contributory infringement), fourth (misappropriation) and fifth (unjust enrichment) claims for relief.

The second claim for relief alleges contributory infringement on the theory that JJ purportedly granted rights to Motown to manufacture and distribute the album that contained the allegedly infringing works. In appropriate circumstances, "a licensor will be liable as a contributory infringer where his licensee pursuant to such a license infringes a copyright of a third party by making unauthorized copies or unauthorized performances." 3 NIMMER ON COPYRIGHT § 12.04[A][2][a], at 12-79 (2004). The Court therefore sees no basis for dismissing the contributory infringement claim on the pleadings.

  The misappropriation claim against JJ, construed in plaintiffs' favor, proceeds on the theory that JJ claimed and received a credit on the allegedly infringing albums distributed by Motown. The unjust enrichment claim is that JJ somehow has been enriched by Motown's use of plaintiffs' copyrighted works, although the complaint does not indicate how that enrichment occurred.

  Both of these claims are attempts to state in common law terms that JJ somehow benefitted from its contributory infringement of plaintiffs' copyrights. These claims therefore are preempted by the Copyright Act. See, e.g., Faulkner v. National Geographic Society, 211 F. Supp.2d 450, 477 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Accordingly, JJ's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted to the extent that the fourth and fifth claims for relief are dismissed. It is denied in all other respects.

  SO ORDERED.

20041210

© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.



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