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DAVIS v. BLIGE

November 22, 2005.

SHARICE DAVIS Plaintiff,
v.
MARY J. BLIGE, BRUCE MILLER, RONALD LAWRENCE, KWAME HOLLAND, DANA STINSON, AUSAR MUSIC, MARY J. BLIGE PUBLISHING, BRUCE MILLER PUBLISHING, KWAME HOLLAND PUBLISHING, MARY J. BLIGE MUSIC, DAYNA S. DAY PUBLISHING CO., WARNER-TAMERLANE PUBLISHING CO., UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, INC., UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, INC., UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP, UNIVERSAL-MCA MUSIC PUBLISHING, UNIVERSAL MUSIC & VIDEO DISTRIBUTION, CORP., and MCA RECORDS, INC., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES HAIGHT Jr., District Judge

MEMORANDUM, OPINION AND ORDER

This is an action asserting copyright claims under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et. seq., a claim for declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and state law claims for unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and for consumer protection claims under the New York General Business Law §§ 349 and 350.*fn1 Defendants move for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's claims.

I. BACKGROUND

  The dispute in the instant action centers upon the release in 2001 of an album entitled "No More Drama" (hereinafter, the "Album"), performed by the defendant songwriter and recording artist Mary J. Blige. J. Davis Decl., Ex. A ¶ 25. Since its release, the Album has achieved triple platinum status. Page Decl., Ex. I. Plaintiff Sharice Davis alleges that two of the songs contained on the Album, "LOVE" and "Keep it Moving" (hereinafter referred to collectively or individually as the "Album Composition(s)"), infringe her copyright in two works of original authorship, "L.O.V.E." and "Don't Trade in My Love" (hereinafter referred to collectively or individually as the "Disputed Composition(s)"). Page Decl., Exhs. F & G. Specifically, Davis claims that the Album Composition "LOVE" is virtually identical to the Disputed Composition "L.O.V.E.,", and the Album Composition "Keep it Moving" bears substantial similarity to the Disputed Composition "Don't Trade in My Love." Id. The labels and packaging of the Album identify Blige, her brother Bruce Miller, Dana Stinson, Ronald Lawrence, and Kwame Holland as co-writers of the Album Compositions.*fn2 Complaint ¶¶ 62-63. Each of these defendants, along with their respective music publishing companies, also named as defendants, join the present motion for summary judgment as Moving Defendants.*fn3 The circumstances surrounding the creation of the Disputed Compositions are at issue. In deposition testimony, Davis conceded that the Disputed Compositions were co-authored by non-party Bruce Chambliss, defendant Miller's father. Page Decl., Ex. B at 22, 152, 156-62, 165, 172-3, 175-6, 278, 305. Davis registered the Disputed Compositions with the United States Copyright Office on two occasions, listing Chambliss as a co-author (one set bearing the date August 2, 2002, the other undated). J. Davis Decl., Exhs. B & C. In deposition testimony, Miller likewise asserts that Chambliss is the author of Disputed Composition "L.O.V.E." Page Decl., Ex. E at 226. Miller also presents two written agreements (hereinafter, the "Written Agreement(s)"), in which Chambliss assigns his rights in each of the Disputed Compositions to Miller. Chambliss Decl., Exhs. A & B. The Written Agreements are dated June 23, 2004, one day prior to Chambliss' deposition. The Written Agreements each provide that "[Bruce Chambliss] does hereby sell, assign, transfer and set over unto Bruce Miller d/b/a CWAB Music (SESAC), its successors and assigns, an undivided one hundred percent (100%) share in and to all of [Bruce Chambliss's] right, title and interest in the [Disputed Composition] of the universe-wide copyrights in and to the musical composition . . . IN WITNESS WHEREOF, [Bruce Chambliss] has duly executed this instrument of transfer as of the date I first create [sic] the above-referenced Composition . . ." Id. According to Defendants, the Written Agreements served to memorialize a prior oral transfer by Chambliss of all his musical compositions to Miller. J. Davis Decl., Exhs. E & F (Miller Tr. at 98-99, 106; Chambliss Tr. at 37-8, 114, 157, 166). Davis hotly contests the existence of any oral transfer. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment at 4-8, 14-15. The alleged oral transfer first came to light during the Miller deposition on December 9, 2003. Page Decl., Ex. E at 98-99.

  Davis' Complaint alleges six claims. Davis' First Claim, for copyright infringement, asserts that Defendants engaged in unauthorized copying, distribution, sale and performance of Davis' copyrighted works and that such infringement was intentional, willful and with full knowledge of Davis' copyrights. She seeks both monetary damages and injunctive relief restraining Defendants and their agents from reproducing, distributing, or selling the Album or the Disputed Compositions.

  Davis' Second Claim is a prayer for declaratory relief, requesting that the Court issue a declaration that Davis is owner of Album Composition "LOVE" and one-half owner of an undivided interest in Album Composition "Keep it Moving,' and as such is entitled to one hundred percent of the royalties generated in connection with Album Composition "LOVE," and fifty percent of all royalties generated in connection with Album Composition "Keep it Moving."

  Davis' Third Claim for violation of Lanham Act § 43(a), asserts that Defendants falsely designated the origin of their goods in interstate commerce by falsely identifying and misrepresenting the authors of the Album Compositions. Davis seeks injunctive relief and damages.

  Davis' Fourth Claim, for unfair competition, asserts that Defendants knowingly and willfully confuse the public "by creating the false and misleading impression that the [Disputed Compositions] were authored by persons other than Davis." Complaint ¶ 99.

  Davis' Fifth Claim alleges unjust enrichment against defendants Blige and Miller.

  Davis' Sixth Claim asserts violations under the New York General Business Law, claiming that defendants' acts were intentionally designed to mislead the public by creating the false impression that Disputed Compositions were authored by persons other than Davis, conduct which constitutes deceptive acts and practices in the conduct of trade and commerce and false advertising in violation of §§ 349 and 350 of the New York General Business Law.

  Defendants move for summary judgment as to the copyright infringement claim on the basis of the Written Agreements. Defendants contend that these agreements reflect an assignment of Chambliss' copyright interests to Miller, who, thereby possessing the rights of a co-author, cannot infringe the copyright as a matter of law.

  Davis resists the motion as to all aspects, with an exception as to her Third Claim for relief under the Lanham Act. Davis did not reply to Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to this count.

  II. DISCUSSION

  For the reasons that follow, I grant defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ...


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