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Week in Review

By Michael B. Smith

Spotify Sued over Royalties

Songwriter David Lowery, of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven, has filed a class action complaint against music streaming giant Spotify in the Central District of California. Lowery alleges that Spotify failed to pay royalties to "[a]ll owners of mechanical distribution and reproduction rights in musical compositions...reproduced or distributed by Spotify without license or authorization...." In addition to statutory damages under the Copyright Act, the complaint asks the court to order Spotify to engage a third party auditor to identify the allegedly aggrieved copyright holders and to restrain Spotify from using the works at issue until it obtains licenses.

The complaint was filed just days after Spotify announced that it would build a "comprehensive publishing administration system" to solve the problem of "missing, wrong, or incomplete" data necessary to identify rightsholders.



Artist Sued over Instagram Printout

Richard Prince, an "appropriation artist" whose works include photographs of others' photographs, has been sued (again) for copyright infringement. Donald Graham, a photographer, filed a copyright infringement complaint against Prince and his gallery in the Southern District of New York. Graham owns the copyright to what is described in his complaint as "a somber black and white portrait capturing a Rastafarian man in the act of lighting a marijuana cigarette." The allegedly infringing work is a photograph of a piece of paper on which is printed an Instagram post, including a comment by Prince, of a cropped copy of Graham's photograph. According to the allegations in the complaint, Prince featured the allegedly infringing work on, among other things, a billboard over the West Side Highway at 50th Street.

In 2013, the Second Circuit partially reversed a judgment of infringement against Prince, finding that his incorporation of another artist's photographs into most of the allegedly infringing works was transformative, and therefore fair use. (See Cariou v. Prince, 714 F.3d 694 (2d. Cir. 2013).) More recently, when Prince sold printouts of another Instagram post for $90,000, the poster responded by selling virtually identical works for $90.00.


Monkey Can't Own Copyright

The latest chapter of the ongoing "Monkey Selfie" saga has just been written by the Northern District of California. In a tentative opinion on the defendants' motion to dismiss, Judge William Orrick wrote, "while Congress and the President can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans, there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act." The Copyright Office agrees. Last year, in a nod to the macaque's cause célèbre, the Office updated the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices to include a "photograph taken by a monkey" as an example of works the Office will not register.


First Basemen Accuse Al Jazeera of Defamation

Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies have sued Al Jazeera America in the District of Columbia for libel and false light invasion of privacy, alleging that the network falsely reported that they had taken the performance-enhancing drug "Delta-2". A documentary called "The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers," featured statements by a pharmacist, Charles Sly, who claimed to have given both men performance-enhancing drugs. The players accuse Al Jazeera of "reckless disregard" for the facts, alleging that Al Jazeera knew that Sly had recanted those statements.


New York Attorney General Doubles Down on Fantasy Sports Suit

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who sued Boston-based daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel late last year alleging that they are actually running "casino-style gambling operations," has amended the complaint to seek the return of all funds wagered by New York customers, as well as punitive damages of up to $5,000 per player. It is estimated that the defendants took in over $200 million in 2015 from over 600,000 customers in New York. Both companies continue to operate in New York under a stay granted by the Appellate Division. The defendants have asked the Appellate Division to continue the initial stay, which expired January 4, 2016.


Art Dealer Fraud Trial Suspended

The trial of New York art dealer Art Wildenstein has been suspended after Wildenstein's lawyers argued that the combined tax and criminal charges against him constitute an unfair double prosecution not permitted under French law. Wildenstein, 70, is accused of hiding over $600 million from French authorities in an effort to avoid paying taxes.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 8, 2016 9:33 AM.

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