United States District Court, S.D. New York
December 10, 2004.
ROBERT JAMES, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNIVERSAL MOTOWN RECORDS, INC., et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEWIS KAPLAN, District Judge
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
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][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.
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