Property, intangible

a blog about ownership of intellectual property rights and its licensing

Not Just Ownership, Authorship

Plaintiff Chris Sevier, owner of Severe Records, LLC, collaborated with artist Shanna Crooks on two songs,“Better” and “Watching Me Leave,” the extent of the collaboration on the songs and the sound recordings TBD.  Both of them distributed the sound recordings.  Next was the expected falling out, and Shanna Crooks’ new management company accused Sevier of infringing the copyright with his distribution of the works.  He filed a complaint for copyright infringement and declaratory judgment on ownership of the copyrights.  The district court dismissed all counts; infringement on the basis that there was no unauthorized distribution by Crooks and the declaratory judgment on ownership of the copyright on the basis that it was a state law claim.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed on the copyright infringement claim but reversed on the declaratory judgment claim.  Crooks’ management company, Muzik Mafia, LLC, had been regularly sending cease and desist letters demanding that Sevier stop distributing the music.  Implicit in that activity was the claim that Sevier had no copyright ownership interest.

But whether he was an owner doesn’t completely answer the question of whether there was federal subject matter jurisdiction.  To succinctly summarize:

Not all claims of co-ownership will arise under the Copyright Act…. For example, at times, whether there is co-ownership may be determined by the terms of a contract governed by state law or through other ownership interests governed by state law and thus not require application of the Copyright Act.  However, a question of authorship, rather than ownership, does arise under the Copyright Act. In other cases, such as where co-ownership results from purported statutory co-authorship, the question of co-ownership is governed by the Copyright Act.

Here, the question was to what extent Sevier and Crooks were co-authors of the various copyrights.  Since authorship is uniquely a matter of federal law, the declaratory judgment action was reversed and remanded.

Severe Records, LLC v. Rich, No. 09-6175 (6th Cir. Sep. 23, 2011).

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