USDC S.D. New York, July 24, 2008

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The district court granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding, among other things, that the defendants’ use of three seconds of plaintiffs’ music video without permission was not de minimis.

Junior Kelly, a reggae recording artist who was not a party in this suit, signed an exclusive recording agreement with the defendants but subsequently recorded songs and appeared in a music video for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs registered a copyright in the music video as a derivative work based on the underlying sound recording, but did not register a copyright in the sound recording. The defendants used three seconds from the music video without permission in a commercial they created to promote several of their recording artists and released a CD containing the sound recording in the music video which also appeared on a CD distributed by the plaintiffs.

The court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the copyright infringement claim relating to the sound recording because the plaintiffs did not register their claimed copyright in the sound recording. The court denied summary judgment on the copyright infringement claim relating to the video. The court first held that the original images in the plaintiffs’ music video are protected by copyright even though the video is a derivative work based on a sound recordingng for which the plaintiffs did not own the copyright. In addition, the defendants’ use of three seconds of the music video in a one-minute commercial was not de minimis because the three one-second images filled up the screen, the recording artist was clearly visible in each image, and the three-second clip contained the only images of the recording artist in a commercial promoting him. The court also stated that the defendants’ exclusive recording agreement with the artist did not shield them from the plaintiffs’ copyright infringement claim because the recording artist did not own the copyright in the video.

The court also held that the plaintiffs’ state law claims of unjust enrichment, unfair competition and misappropriation were preempted by the Copyright Act because each claim was not qualitatively different from the copyright claims. The court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the claims of tortious interference with a contract because the plaintiffs offered no evidence that the recording artist breached his oral agreement with the plaintiffs by delivering the sound recording to the defendants. The court denied summary judgment for conversion of the sound recording because the plaintiffs authorized the recoding artist to share the sound recording with third-parties, but the court denied summary judgment for conversion relating to the video because the plaintiffs did not authorize him to share the video with third-parties. The court also granted summary judgment to the defendants on the antitrust claims because the plaintiffs failed to allege an antitrust injury.