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Edwards v. Raymond

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 23, 2014

ZACHARIA L. EDWARDS, MITCH MOSES and VINCE McCLEAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
USHER RAYMOND IV (p/k/a USHER), ARISTA RECORDS, INC. (n/k/a RCA RECORDS, INC.), ANDRE HARRIS, VIDAL DAVID, JASON BOYD, RYAN TOBY, UNIVERSAL MUSIC CORPORATION (n/k/a UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, INC.), DIRTY DRE MUSIC (d/b/a UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, INC.), DOUBLE OH EIGHT (d/b/a UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, INC.), POO BZ PUBLSIHING, INC., HITCO MUSIC PUBLISHING, LLC, MUSIC OF WINDSWEPT, PLADIS MUSIC, INC. and EMI APRIL MUSIC, INC., Defendants

Page 294

For Zacharia L. Edwards, Mitch Mosees, Vince McClean, Plaintiffs: David J. Voelker, Olga S. Dmytriyeva, Voelker Litigation Group, Chicago, Illinois.

For Usher Raymond IV, Sony Music Entertainment, Defendants: Jonathan D. Davis, Jonathan D. Davis, P.C., New York, New York.

Page 295

OPINION & ORDER

DENISE COTE, United States District Judge.

Zacharia L. Edwards, Mitch Moses, and Vince McCLean (collectively, the " Plaintiffs" ) bring this action against Usher Raymond IV (" Usher" ), Sony Music Entertainment (" Sony" ), and other related music industry defendants[1] (collectively, the " Defendants" ), asserting copyright infringement and breach of contract. The Plaintiffs plead one count of copyright infringement. They allege that the Defendants

Page 296

willfully copied the Plaintiff's original composition, entitled " Caught Up" (" Plaintiffs' Song" ), to create Usher's 2004 hit song of the same name (the " Challenged Song" ) in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 501. The Plaintiffs contend that the Defendants violated the Plaintiffs' musical composition and sound recording rights in their song. See 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(2) & (7). They also allege one count of breach of contract against defendants Usher and Sony only. For the following reasons, the copyright infringement claim is dismissed. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the breach of contract claim.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs are music composers. In 2002, they composed an original musical composition entitled " Caught Up." They filed an application for copyright registration of that song on May 15, 2012. In October of 2002, Michael Barackman, a Senior Director of Artist and Repertoire at Artista Records, Inc. -- a now defunct record label that was previously a Sony subsidiary[2] -- scheduled a meeting with the Plaintiffs so that the Plaintiffs could present him with original songs for possible use in one of Artista's upcoming albums. At the meeting, the Plaintiffs played the Plaintiffs' Song for Barackman. Barackman liked the song and, per his request, the Plaintiffs provided him with a compact disk that included the Plaintiffs' Song. The Plaintiffs contend that they provided the compact disk with their song to Barackman based on an agreement that any use of the song would be in exchange for " reasonable compensation" based on " industry practices and standards."

The Plaintiffs contend that Usher began work on his album " Confessions" in late 2002. On March 23, 2004 Usher released " Confessions," which included as a track the Challenged Song, also entitled " Caught Up." The album and the Challenged Song achieved great popularity. The Challenged Song peaked at number eight on the U.S. Billboard " Hot 100" Chart.

On November 7, 2013, the Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit. This is the second lawsuit filed in this district against Usher alleging copyright infringement in connection with the Challenged Song. The first action, brought by different plaintiffs, was resolved by Opinion and Order of May 19, 2011 in Pyatt v. Raymond, 10 Civ. 8764 (CM), 2011 WL 2078531 (S.D.N.Y. May 19, 2011). In Pyatt, the court dismissed the copyright action, finding that the plaintiffs' songs lacked the requisite " substantial similarity" to the Challenged Song under the " ordinary observer" test to constitute unlawful copying. Id. at *1; see Peter F. Gaito Architecture, LLC v. Simone Dev. Corp., 602 F.3d 57, 66 (2d Cir. 2010).

Usher and Sony moved to dismiss the complaint in this action on January 16, 2014. They attached with their motion an exhibit consisting of a side-by-side comparison of the lyrics of the Plaintiffs' Song and the Challenged Song. They also attached as exhibits two compact disks, containing, respectively, each song. The motion was fully submitted on March 14.

DISCUSSION

LaFaro v.

Page 297

New York Cardiothoracic Group, PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, " a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citation omitted). A complaint must do more, however, than offer " naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Id. (citation omitted).

" For purposes of a motion to dismiss, we have deemed a complaint to include any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit or any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference, as well as . . . documents that the plaintiffs either possessed or knew about and upon which they relied in bringing the suit." Rothman v. Gregor, 220 F.3d 81, 88 (2d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Although the Plaintiffs did not attach copies of the lyrics and audio recordings of the two songs, the Plaintiffs clearly relied upon those materials in bringing this suit. Accordingly, this Court will consider them in connection with this motion to dismiss.

The Defendants contend that the Plaintiffs' copyright infringement claim must be dismissed because the Plaintiffs' Song and the Challenged Song share no protectable expression and are not " substantially similar." See Peter F. Gaito Architecture, 602 F.3d at 66. They also contend that the lawsuit is barred by the doctrine of laches because the Plaintiffs waited nearly eight and a half years from the accrual of their claim to file this action. See generally Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 12-1315, 134 S.Ct. 1962, 188 L.Ed.2d 979, 2014 WL 2011574 (U.S. May 19, 2014). Finally, they contend that the breach of contract claim should be dismissed because the Plaintiffs have not adequately alleged the existence of a contract and that in any event their breach of contract claim is either time barred or void under the statute of frauds. Because the two songs are not ...


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