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Tyrone Simmons v. William C. Stanberry

March 23, 2012

TYRONE SIMMONS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM C. STANBERRY, JR., ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed this action against defendants alleging violations of the Copyright Act, as well as state-law claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition. (See Compl., Doc. Entry No. 1.) Defendant William Stanberry and the entity that he is alleged to control, Apex Productions, LLC d/b/a Apex Productionz (the "Stanberry Defendants"), have failed to appear in this case. Defendants Curtis Jackson, p/k/a "50 Cent" ("Jackson"), UMG Recordings (s/h/a Universal Music Group), Interscope Records, a division of UMG Recordings (s/h/a Interscope Records), Aftermath Records (s/h/a Aftermath Entertainment), Shady Records, and G-Unit Records, LLC (s/h/a G-Unit Records) (collectively, the "Jackson Defendants"), moved, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the claims against them in the complaint. (See Mot. to Dismiss Counts I, IV, V, and VI, Doc. Entry No. 16.) For the reasons set forth below, the Jackson Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a hip-hop artist, contacted Stanberry, a song writer and producer, regarding Plaintiff's interest in one of Stanberry's works. (Compl. ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff and Stanberry reached an agreement whereby Stanberry agreed to sell Plaintiff an "exclusive license" to use the beats and rhythms known as the "I Get Money Instrumental" (the "Beat"). (Compl. ¶¶ 32-33.) The parties reduced their agreement to writing, wherein Plaintiff paid $600.00 for "Exclusive Rights to 'I Get Money' Instrumental [W]ork" (the "Purchase Agreement"). (Purchase Agmt., Compl. Ex. A.) Plaintiff selected the Beat because he perceived that it would have great market value, if combined with hip-hop lyrics. (Compl. ¶ 36.) As soon as he purchased the exclusive rights to use the Beat, Plaintiff began creating lyrics to combine with the Beat. (Compl. ¶ 41.)

Stanberry assured Plaintiff that the Beat was no longer in use (Compl. ¶ 42); however, the Beat remained listed on a website operated by Stanberry, and eventually fell into the hands of a hip-hop producer known as Scott Muso. (Compl. ¶¶ 42-43.) Without informing Plaintiff or Stanberry, and without seeking their consent, Muso copied the Beat from the website and began distributing it as his own rhythmic compilation. (Compl. ¶¶ 43-44.) Muso then sent a copy of the Beat to an individual associated with Jackson, informing that individual that Muso was the creator of the Beat. (Comp. ¶¶ 45-47.) Jackson, who was interested in the Beat, wrote lyrics to combine with the Beat. The result was a hip-hop song entitled, "I Get Money (Straight to the Bank Pt. 2)" (hereinafter, the "Song").

Shortly thereafter, Stanberry learned about Muso's actions and Stanberry contacted Jackson to inform Jackson that he was the true creator of the Beat. (Compl. ¶ 48.) Stanberry and Jackson entered into several agreements by which Stanberry purported to transfer his copyright interests in the Beat to Jackson. (Id.) Jackson and Stanberry reached an additional agreement in which Jackson hired Stanberry to produce the Song. (Compl. ¶¶ 48, 54.)

On June 27, 2007, Stanberry contacted Simmons via email to inform Simmons that Simmons could:

[P]ick any other beat you want but the "I Get Money" [the Beat] is being used [by] 50 cent for his next single[.] [I] know I'm sorry man but this is good news [be]cause [you] can always get a track from an official producer. [A] lot of things about to change man, I hope you understand this is a once in a lifetime opportunity[.]

(Jun. 27, 2007 Email, Compl., Ex. E.) Simmons declined Stanberry's offer to select another beat and shortly thereafter, Stanberry ceased communicating with Simmons. (Compl. ¶ 50-51.) In September 2007, Stanberry registered the Beat with the United States Copyright Office, listing himself and Mr. Jackson as authors. (Compl. ¶ 55.) Jackson began performing the Song during the summer of 2007, and by the time Plaintiff filed the instant action, Jackson had sold over two million copies of the Song. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-10.)

Plaintiff registered the Purchase Agreement with the United States Copyright Office in December 2010. (Compl. ¶ 60.) Plaintiff then commenced the instant action, alleging claims arising under the Copyright Act and New York state law. The Jackson Defendants seek dismissal of the claims against them, specifically, Counts I, IV, V, and VI.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The pleading standard under Rule 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), "but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). A complaint does not "suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). A plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitle[ment] to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual statements alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Taylor v. Vt. Dep't of Educ., 313 F. 3d 768, 776 (2d Cir. 2002). The court may only consider the pleading itself, documents that are referenced in the complaint, documents that the plaintiff relied on in bringing suit and that are either in the plaintiff's possession or that the plaintiff knew of when bringing suit, and matters of which judicial notice may be taken. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F. 3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002); Int'l Audiotext Network, Inc. v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 62 F. 3d 69, 72 (2d Cir. 1995).

With respect to the instant motion, the Court has considered documents submitted in addition to the complaint, such email exchanges between Simmons and Strawberry, ...


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