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Latin American Music Co., Inc. v. Spanish Broadcasting System Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 6, 2017

LATIN AMERICAN MUSIC COMPANY, INC., also known as LAMCO, and ASOCIACIÓN DE COMPOSITORES Y EDITORES DE MUSICA LATINOAMERICANA, also known as ACEMLA, Plaintiffs,
v.
SPANISH BROADCASTING SYSTEM, INC., and RAUL ALARCON, JR., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Latin American Music Company, Inc. (“LAMCO”) and Asociación de Compositores y Editores de Musica Latinoamericana de Puerto Rico, Inc. (“ACEMLA”) bring this action for copyright infringement against Defendant Spanish Broadcasting System, Inc. (“SBS”).[1]Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant improperly broadcast thirteen songs owned by Plaintiffs on its Spanish-language radio stations without first obtaining licenses from Plaintiffs. On September 23, 2015, the Court denied Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment, which was filed prior to the completion of discovery, finding that genuine issues of material fact existed as to Defendant's contention that it had valid licenses to play certain of the songs. (Doc. No. 78.) On March 1, 2016, discovery in this matter closed. (Doc. No. 83.) Now before the Court is Defendant's second motion for partial summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff LAMCO is a music publisher that administers copyrighted musical works of Puerto Rican and foreign composers; Plaintiff ACEMLA is an organization that licenses performance rights to musical works; and Defendant SBS is a radio broadcaster that owns and operates commercial radio and television stations across the United States and Puerto Rico.[2] (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 1-3.) Background information on the parties and the basic facts underlying their dispute were set forth in the Court's September 23, 2015 opinion, and need not be repeated here. (See Doc. No. 78.) Accordingly, the following section focuses on the songs at issue on the instant motion, first discussing the songs as to which the parties dispute ownership, and second discussing those for which Defendant contends there is no evidence of infringement.

         1. Disputes Over Ownership

         As to seven of the songs addressed by Defendant's motion - Abuelita, Aguanile, Ausencia, Mi Gente, Soy Sensacional, Mantecadito, and Arroz con Bacalao - the parties dispute whether Plaintiffs currently own the rights to these songs. However, there is no dispute that one of two entities other than Plaintiffs - Fania Publishing Co., Inc. (“Fania Publishing”) or Fania Records, Co. (“Fania Records”) - registered copyrights for each of these songs in the 1970s, decades before any purported transfer of copyright ownership to Plaintiffs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 59.) For convenience, the Court will refer to these seven songs as the “Fania Works.”

         a. Abuelita, Aguanile, and Ausencia

         In 1970 and 1971, Fania Publishing registered Abuelita, Aguanile, and Ausencia with the Copyright Office. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 8, 13, 17.) The registration certificate for each of these songs identifies Willie Colon and Hector Perez (sometimes under his pseudonym, Hector Lavoe) as the co-authors. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 14, 18.)

         Decades later, in 1999 and 2000, Plaintiffs recorded agreements pursuant to which one of Hector Lavoe's heirs purportedly transferred the rights in Abuelita, Aguanile, and Ausencia to Plaintiffs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 61; Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 6.) Also in 1999, Plaintiffs registered copyrights for these three songs. (Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 7.)

         b. Mi Gente

         In 1975, Fania Publishing registered Mi Gente with the Copyright Office. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 21.) The registration certificate lists “Johnny Pacheco” as the author of the work. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         Plaintiffs' alleged ownership of the rights to Mi Gente stems from the same agreements with the Lavoe heir discussed above. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 61; Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs recorded these agreements in 1999 and 2000, naming Hector Lavoe as the author of Mi Gente instead of Pacheco. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 63; Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 6.) As of Plaintiffs' response to Defendant's 56.1 statement, Plaintiffs' application to register Mi Gente remains pending. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 65.)

         c. Soy Sensacional and Mantecadito

         In 1973, Fania Records registered Hommy - a Latin opera that includes both Soy Sensacional and Mantecadito - with the Copyright Office. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 27-28.) The registration certificate lists “Larry Kahn a/k/a Larry Harlow” and “Jenaro Alvarez a/k/a Heny Alvarez” as the co-authors of the work. (Id. ¶ 29.) In the same year, Fania Records registered Soy Sensacional and Mantecadito individually with the Copyright Office. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 33.)

         In 1996, Plaintiffs recorded with the Copyright Office agreements between themselves and “Jenaro Alvarez Domenech, ” pursuant to which Plaintiffs purportedly obtained rights to a number of Jenaro Alvarez Domenech's songs, including Soy Sensacional and Mantecadito. (Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 1.) In 2003, Plaintiffs registered copyrights to Soy Sensacional and Mantecadito, listing only Jenaro Alvarez Domenech as the author. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 66; Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 2.)

         d. Arroz con Bacalao

         In 1979, Fania Publishing registered Arroz con Bacalao with the Copyright Office. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 39.) The registration certificate lists “Johnny Alvarez” as the author of the work and indicates that Fania Publishing obtained ownership of the copyright via a songwriter's agreement with Alvarez. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.)

         In 2003, Plaintiffs recorded purported transfers of Arroz con Bacalao from “Jenaro Alvarez Domenech” (also listed as “Genaro Alvarez Domenech” and “Jenaro Heny Alvarez”). (Pl. Counter 56.1 ¶ 3.) The same year, Plaintiffs registered a copyright in Ar ...


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