We have a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by William L. Roberts, aka Rick Ross, and Andrew Harr and Jermaine Jackson, aka The Runners, alleging infringement of a musical work titled “Hustlin’.”
In 2001, Roberts signed a recording agreement with Slip ‘N Slide Records (SNS), a name used interchangeably in agreements with First-N-Gold Publishing, Inc. (FNG). (We don’t have any information on who owns SNS/FNG, although FNG filed a motion to intervene that was denied.) Under the agreement, SNS/FNG owned 50% of Roberts’ copyrights. Roberts was the sole owner of 3 Blunts Lit at Once, LLC, the publisher of the songs he wrote. It was administratively dissolved in 2004.
Harr and Jackson were the sole owners and members of Track-N-Field Entertainment, LLC (TNF). In October, 2005 TNF furnished the services of Harr and Jackson to SNS/FNG for the composition and master recording of Hustlin’. Harr, Jackson and Roberts are the authors of the musical composition. The court made the factual determination that the composition was created in 2005 and published in 2005 when it was distributed to numerous radio and/ or nightclub disc jockeys for the purpose of playing and/or promoting the composition. The sound recording was first released as a single in March, 2006.
So, as author, Roberts originally owned 50% of Hustlin’ and TNF owned the other half. But pursuant to Roberts’ recording agreement, half of his share was owned by SNS/FNG, so Roberts and SNS/FNG each owned 25%. On January 31, 2006, the Roberts-SNS/FNG agreement was amended to split the share 37.5% to Roberts and 12.5% to SNS/FNG. On May 1, 2006, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC entered into an agreement with 3 Blunts (even though it had been administratively dissolved) wherein Roberts assigned his 37.5% interest to 3 Blunts and 3 Blunts assigned 50% of that (or 18.75%) to Sony/ATV Tunes. Also in May, SNS/FNG, 3 Blunts and TNG (that is, all the original copyright owners) signed a publishing agreement saying they had “secured a copyright interest” in the song and that SNS/FNG had a 12.5% interest, 3 Blunts had a 37.5% interest and TNF had a 50% interest.
On July 24, 2006, Sony/ATV Tunes and 3 Blunts amended their agreement to provide that 4 Blunts Lit at Once Publishing (BMI), rather than 3 Blunts Lit at Once LLC (ASCAP) would assign, effective January 1, 2006 (i.e., before the first agreement had been signed), 50% of its 37.5% interest in Hustlin’ to Sony/ATV Songs LLC (BMI) instead of Sony/ATV Tunes LLC (ASCAP). 4 Blunts Lit at Once was the d/b/a of Roberts and the dissolved company 3 Blunts.
Got all that?
We also have the following facts about three registrations for the single work:
On February 28, 2006, the U .S. Copyright Office received an application to register a musical work titled Hustlin’. The application identified Andrew Harr, Jermaine Jackson, William Roberts, and Bernard Rogers as co-authors. The copyright claimants of the words/lyrics and music were William Roberts, Bernard Rogers, TNF, and FNG. The application stated that the work was created in 2005 and that it was unpublished. The application also stated that TNF and FNG had obtained their copyright interest in the work “by written contract.” The Office registered the work with an effective date of registration (“EDR”) of February 28, 2006, and assigned it registration number PAu 3-024-979.
On June 28, 2006, the Copyright Office received another application to register the work. This application identified William Roberts pka Rick Ross, Andrew Harr, and Jermaine Jackson as co-authors (not listing Bernard Rogers). The copyright claimants of the words and music were FNG, 3 Blunts Lit At Once, and TNF. The application stated that the work was created in 2006 and first published in the United States on March 28, 2006. The application also stated that the copyright claimants had obtained their copyright interest in the work “by written agreement” and did not identify any prior registration for the work. The Office registered the work with an EDR of June 28, 2006, and assigned it registration number PA 1-334-589.
On February 28, 2007, the Copyright Office received a third application to register the work. This application identified William Roberts, Jerma[ine] Jackson, and Andrew Harr as the co-authors (again, not Bernard Rogers). The copyright claimants of the words and music were (1) Sony/ATV Songs LLC/4 Blunts Lit At Once and (2) J. Jackson and A. Harr/TNF/FNG. The application stated that the work was created in 2006 and first published in the United States on August 8, 2006. The application also stated that the copyright claimants had obtained their copyright interest in the work “by assignment” and did not identify any prior registration for the work. The Office registered the work with an EDR of February 28, 2007, and assigned it registration number PA 1-367-972.
What happens on a motion for summary judgment on the question “was the musical composition Hustlin’ validly registered by the Copyright Office, and, if so, do Plaintiffs have an ownership interest in the exclusive right to prepare derivative works for the musical composition Hustlin’?” Recall that both legal and beneficial owners (i.e., those with an income interest) have standing.
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