USCA Fifth Circuit, December 8, 2009 (unpublished)

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  • Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals holds that plaintiff was time-barred under the Copyright Act from suing for co-ownership of defendant’s copyright because more than three years had elapsed since defendant registered with the Copyright Office; court also holds that the copyright registration solely in defendant’s name was sufficient to put the plaintiff on constructive notice that defendant claimed sole ownership in the work.

Plaintiff-appellant Maurice Jordan is the music composer and producer professionally known as Kenoe. The defendant-appellees are Sony BMG Music, Lucky Publishing, and recording artist Wesley Weston (known professionally as Lil Flip).

Pursuant to a 2002 agreement with Suckafree Records, Inc., plaintiff composed the melodies to defendant Weston’s rap songs “8 Rulez,” “Haters Still Mad,” and “We Ain’t Scared.” Defendant Sony distributed these songs for Suckafree on the 2002 album “Underground Legend” and the 2003 album “Lil’ Flip and Sucka Free Present: 7-1-3 and the Underground Legend.” Sony registered copyrights to the albums, as sole owner, in September 2002 and May 2003, respectively.

In May 2006, plaintiff sued defendants for co-ownership and accounting, breach of contract, and copyright infringement, based on defendants’ refusal to pay plaintiff any royalties on album sales under plaintiff’s 2002 agreement with Suckafree. The district court awarded summary judgment for defendants on plaintiff’s breach of contract and copyright infringement claims, citing insufficient evidence. The district court also found that plaintiff’s co-ownership and accounting claims were time-barred under the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations.

Plaintiff appealed and asserted that he was not time-barred under the Copyright Act. Plaintiff claimed that the registration alone did not provide constructive notice. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the Copyright Act provides that “[r]ecordation of a document in the Copyright Office gives all persons constructive notice of the facts stated in the recorded document.” Accordingly, plaintiff had constructive notice of Sony’s claim to sole ownership of the work as of the date of recordation. The court thus held that any claim based on co-ownership was barred if brought more than three years after the registration was filed.

Plaintiff also argued that his claims should not be time-barred because had could not have had notice of Sony’s filings with the Copyright Office because of alleged long delays in publication of new registration certificates by the Copyright Office. The court rejected this argument on the grounds that it conflicted with the express wording of the Copyright Act, and found that there was constructive notice as of the date of registration. The court remanded for a determination as to whether the sound recordings on the 2002 and 2003 albums were the same, and whether the earlier registration barred claims on both albums.