Essence of the Ninth Circuit’s Decision in the “Blurred Lines” Copyright Infringement Case
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made several notable determinations in its 2-1 vote affirming a Los Angeles federal jury’s verdict that the worldwide song hit “Blurred Lines” infringed on Marvin Gaye’s 1970s song hit “Got to Give It Up.” The appeals court decision upheld copyright liability against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, but reversed the district court’s overturning of the part of the jury verdict that absolved “Blurred Lines” co-writer T.I. (Clifford Harris) and record labels Interscope and UMG of liability. In a nutshell, the Ninth Circuit also: upheld the district court’s denial of summary judgment to Thicke and Williams as not reviewable following a full trial; found the judge’s jury instructions were proper; that testimony of the Gaye family’s expert witnesses was properly admitted, including “‘audio ‘mash-ups’ superimposing Marvin Gaye’s vocals from ‘Got To Give It Up’ onto the accompaniment in ‘Blurred Lines,’ and vice versa”; ruled that awarding the Gaye family 50% of the “Blurred Lines” publishing income wasn’t unduly speculative; and upheld the denial of attorney fees to the Gaye estate, the latter by noting: “The district court took the specific circumstances of the case into consideration, including the degree of success obtained, the purposes of the Copyright Act, the chilling effect of attorney’s fees, motivation, frivolousness, factual and legal unreasonableness, compensation, and deterrence.”
Trademark Cancellation Claim Can’t Proceed Against Marilyn Monroe Brand Manager
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed with prejudice a trademark cancellation claim against Authentic Brands Group (ABG), a brand manager for Marilyn Monroe LLC, by deciding that a trademark licensee can’t be sued for trademark cancellation. A.V.E.L.A., Inc. v. The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC, 12 Civ. 4828. X One X, which “creat[es] new artistic works in print, graphic and lithographic mediums,” and International Fine Arts Publishing alleged the Monroe LLC improperly claimed exclusive rights in 15 trademarks managed by ABG. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla first found that Marilyn Monroe LLC wasn’t ABG’s alter ego, by noting: “The claim that the Monroe Estate directs licensees to send correspondence to ABG fails to show that the two companies operate as a single entity, particularly given that the Monroe Estate shares an address with ABG, which … is of little consequence to the single-entity analysis. And, even if true, the suggestion that ABG is the Monroe Estate’s sole manager offers little evidence that the two companies operate as a single entity.” District Judge Failla then found: “[T]here is little doubt that the trademark owner is the Monroe Estate, not ABG. The trademark registrations themselves belie [the] assertion to the contrary: They indisputably list the Monroe Estate as the owner. The only reference to ABG is in the Monroe Estate’s street address, which is listed as: ‘100 West 33rd Street, Suite 1007, c/o Authentic Brands Group, LLC, New York, NY 10001.’ The mere fact that the Monroe Estate’s address references ABG does not, and could not, establish that ABG owns the trademarks.”
Stan Soocher is Editor-in-Chief of Entertainment Law & Finance and a tenured Associate Professor of Music & Entertainment Studies at the University of Colorado’s Denver Campus. He is author of the book Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun & Profit (ForeEdge/University Press of New England). For more, visit www.stansoocher.com.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.