No. 2:20-cv-3212 (C.D. Cal. 2020)
Comment by Charles Cronin
This dispute does not involve the typical allegation in music infringement cases, that defendant misappropriated plaintiff’s musical expression in creating another song. Here the Plaintiff claims he was a co-author of Defendant’s song, but received none of the recognition or (perhaps more importantly…) a portion of the financial profits it generated.
The case is interesting mainly because it raises the issue of the ambiguous nature of authorship that characterizes most popular songs today. The Complaint, after touting a great deal of irrelevant nonsense about the Plaintiff’s musical bona fides (“an amazing musician,” “proficient with multiple instruments” Oh dear…) recounts how he participated with Defendants in “writing” the song in question.
In fact, it does not appear anything was “written” during the jam session discussed in the Complaint; the song was fixed in sounds and words stitched together in a recording by the participants, with minimal original musical expression. The result is an amateurish-sounding mess, ultimately made saleable through the ministrations of post-production audio engineers, and the creation of an absurd video recording of a choreographed performance of it set on a Mediaeval battlefield, with the Defendant sporting regrettable facial tattoos. The overall sound and style are reminiscent of those in Chris Martin’s (Coldplay) “Viva la Vida”, which was the target of an infringement allegation some years ago.
On October 19, 2020 the District Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss based on their claim that the Plaintiff failed to establish his copyright interest in the sound recording of the disputed work. The Plaintiff based his copyright interest on his argument that he was a joint author of the sound recording. The Court rebuffed his claim finding that the Plaintiff had not asserted any degree of control over the authorship of the sound recording, and therefore could not establish that he had contributed independently copyrightable expression, a prerequisite for joint authorship.
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint: PDF