LAWSUIT BROUGHT AGAINST LMFAO TO BE HEARD BY JURY
Steven T. Lowe
On January 4, 2019, Florida U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Williams revived a 2017 lawsuit and ruled that a jury will hear copyright claims against LMFAO over their hit, “Party Rock Anthem.”
Rick Ross, whose legal name is William Roberts II, sued LMFAO members Stefan and Skyler Gordy (a son and a grandson of legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy) in December 2013, claiming that “Party Rock Anthem,” which topped the Billboard charts for weeks and sold more than 7.5 million copies in the U.S., infringed Ross’ 2006 hit “Hustlin’.” A trial that was set for October 2015 was vacated shortly before that date when the Judge asked the U.S. Copyright Office to answer questions about the validity of Ross’ registrations, three of which contained errors. The first registration had incorrectly stated that the song was “unpublished,” even though it had technically been issued on records to local DJs. The second and third registrations incorrectly gave the creation date as 2006 instead of 2005. Then in January 2016, the Copyright Office replied that it shouldn’t have issued the registrations based on the foregoing reasons. In April 2016, the judge ruled that the errors rendered the registrations invalid, and she tossed the case. Ross then appealed, arguing the registrations were still valid because there wasn’t intentional fraud or concealment.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and reversed. In December of 2017, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Rick Ross and the producers of his song “Hustlin’” had valid copyright registrations to the song, “Hustlin.’”
The District Court has now cleared the way for a jury trial: “Because genuine issues of material fact remain regarding [producers] legal ownership of Hustlin’, they are entitled to a jury trial on this issue and on their infringement claims,” Judge Williams said. Disputes of fact remain because the parties disagree as to whether [producers] authored Hustlin’ in the form of a “work for hire” for the company they own, Trac-N-Field Entertainment LLC (“TNF”), and also whether they ever assigned their ownership stakes to TNF. If it was a work for hire, then TNF owns those “creative contributions.”
Judge Williams explained: “On the one hand, [producers] testimony about their relationship with TNF and TNF’s operation suggest that [producers] – and not TNF – controlled all aspects of work that go into their entertainment business and went into the creation of Hustlin’. On the other hand, TNF owns and receives all royalties from works created by [producers], and it is TNF who enters into all contracts relating to their musical compositions. And the record is unclear how [producers] are compensated by TNF for their work,” so only a jury can resolve those and other actual questions.
Although the court found that the producers have claims, the court found that Ross himself doesn’t because he isn’t a legal owner of the song, he had assigned his interest in 2006 to an entity called 3 Blunts Lit at Once LLC, and that assignment was in force even though 3 Blunts dissolved in 2004. Thus, Ross has no standing to make a claim.
Judge Williams also made clear there was no so-called beneficial ownership. “Plaintiffs have presented no evidence of beneficial ownership, so summary judgment will be granted for defendants on this issue,” the judge said.
Finally, the Judge limited the amount each party can recover based on what percentage of the legal ownership to the song “Hustlin’” each party actually owns.
Ross, Harr and Jackson are represented by Karen Stetson and Jonathan Gaines of GrayRobinson PA.
The defendants are represented by Nina Boyajian, Vincent Chieffo and Barry Rothberg of Greenberg Traurig LLP.
The case is Roberts II et al. v. Gordy et al., case number 1:13-cv-24700, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
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