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Abkco Music, Inc. v. Sagan

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 31, 2017

ABKCO MUSIC, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM SAGAN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HENRY PITMAN United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         I write to resolve a dispute between the parties concerning defendants' objections and responses to 1, 901 requests for admissions ("RFAs") served by plaintiffs. Plaintiffs claim that the responses are deficient and seek an Order either directing defendants to serve amended responses or deeming the requests admitted (Pls.1 Letter to the Undersigned, dated May 22, 2016 (D.I. 168) ("Pls." Motion to Compel"); see also Pls.' Reply Letter to the Undersigned, dated June 9, 2017 (D.I. 179) ("Pls.1 Reply")). Defendants argue that these RFAs are improper and that, in any event, the responses they provided satisfy their obligations under Fed.R.Civ.P. 36 (Defs.' Letter to the Undersigned, dated June 2, 2017 (D.I. 176) ("Defs.1 Opp.")).

         II. Facts

         The facts underlying this action have been set forth in previous decisions, familiarity with which are assumed. See, e.g.., Abkco Music, Inc. v. William Sagan, Norton LLC, 15 Civ. 4025 (ER), 2016 WL 2642224 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 6, 2016) (Ramos, D.J.). Plaintiffs allege that they own or control the copyrights to hundreds of iconic musical compositions that span composers from Rogers & Hammerstein and Hoagy Carmichael to Mick Jagger and Billy Joe Armstrong. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants acquired audio-visual recordings of concerts at which the compositions owned or controlled by plaintiffs were performed and that defendants are violating plaintiffs' rights by operating websites that offer the public the opportunity to stream or download those recordings for a fee and offer for sale newly manufactured CDs, DVDs and vinyl records containing the performances. Defendants claim to have acquired the rights to reproduce these recordings, which plaintiffs dispute.

         The present dispute arises out 1, 901 RFAs plaintiffs served on defendants concerning plaintiffs' ownership of the copyrighted works at issue in this case. Although the parties have not submitted all the RFAs in connection with this motion, based on the samples they have submitted it appears that for each work, plaintiffs have posed one or more RFAs seeking admissions regarding the corresponding copyright registration, songwriter agreement or subsequent transfer document. Each RFA also identifies the bates-number of the referenced document in plaintiffs' document production.

         The RFAs can be divided into two categories, namely, those related to plaintiffs' copyright registrations with the United States Copyright Office and those related to plaintiff's acquisition of ownership through an assignment or transfer of a copyright registration.[1] Each RFA seeks the defendants' admission that the work was registered or transferred/assigned as stated in the referenced document. Thus, in substance, plaintiffs seek defendants' admissions as to the authenticity and accuracy of each document. Plaintiffs have indicated that the purpose of the RFAs is to invite defendants to make "specific challenges to Plaintiffs' chain of title" (Pi. Reply at 3). Defendants' responses to each of the RFAs at issue are identical -- in addition to interposing various objections, defendants state that, despite reasonable inquiry, they lack the knowledge necessary to admit or deny them.

         Examples of the two categories of RFAs and defendants' responses are as follows:

Request No. 1
Admit that the musical composition "Besame Mucho" was registered in the U.S. Copyright Office as registration number E for 65106 in the name of Promotura Hispano Americana de Musica S.A. on or about June 5, 1941 and was first published on May 2, 1941 as reflected on the registration certificate produced as PLAINTIFFS0002148 .
Response
Defendants object to this Request as overly broad and unduly burdensome. Defendants further object to this Request to the extent that it is vague, ambiguous and compound. Defendants further object to this Request to the extent that it asks Defendants to verify the authenticity of documents produced by Plaintiffs in this action, which Defendants are unable to do. Defendants further object on the grounds that this Request seeks to impermissibly shift the burden of demonstrating ownership of the copyrights at issue from Plaintiffs to Defendants. Defendants further object to the extent that this Request calls for legal conclusions. Defendants further object to the extent the information is more readily available to Plaintiffs. Defendants further object to the extent that the document speaks for itself. Subject to and without waiving the foregoing objections, Defendants respond as follows:
Defendants lack sufficient information to admit or deny this Request. Although Defendants have made reasonable inquiry, the document in question was produced by Plaintiffs, and Defendants have neither created nor been involved with the document in any way. Defendants therefore are unable to authenticate the document in question and, as a result, are ...

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