Carter v. Pallante, 256 F. Supp. 3d 791 (N.D. Ill. 2017)
Tollie Carter sued, as relevant here, alleging that ARC, Fuji, and BMG infringed his copyrights in certain songs by selling unauthorized licenses to third parties, who in turn publicly performed the songs. Carter’s father, Calvin Carter, and his uncle, James Bracken, were songwriters, and Carter is their heir who allegedly recaptured rights in their works under §203 and §304.
Nonetheless, Carter alleged that the publisher defendants, “without [Carter’s] authorization or consent, represented to numerous third parties it could license—and did license to those third parties—the performance rights and other rights to [Carter’s songs].” The court found that claims for copyright infringement and contributory infringement were sufficiently pled. Selling licenses plausibly violated Carter’s exclusive right to “distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.” [Which right? Authorization isn’t usually considered a separate right, but merely the foundation for secondary liability, which does seem adequately alleged here.] The court rejected defendants’ argument that Carter needed to state who the third parties were, which songs were licensed, or when the licenses were sold, none of which is required under Rule 8 for copyright claims. “He cannot be expected to know at this stage who the third parties were, when these sales occurred, or which of his songs were licensed. This information, if it exists, is exclusively within the Publisher Defendants’ knowledge, and Carter can obtain it only through discovery.” So too with contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.
DMCA §1202: The claim for removing CMI also survived, even though the alleged removal here didn’t relate to “the Internet, electronic commerce, automated copyright protections or management systems, public registers, or other technological measures or processes as contemplated in the DMCA as a whole.” The plain text of the statute doesn’t require any of that. Further, defendants argued that Carter didn’t plead that false copyright information was conveyed “with copies of the work.” But under Rule 8 he didn’t to plead particularized facts as to how, when, and to whom the publishers communicated false information in connection with their purported licensing agreements. “In any event, Carter unmistakably alleges that false copyright information was conveyed with copies of the work by way of the licensing agreements he claims the Publisher Defendants entered into with third parties.” [That doesn’t seem right—again the court seems to be conflating authorization with actual exercise of a §106 right.]
State law claims, however, were mostly preempted, including tortious interference claims. The partial exception was deceptive trade practices under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which covers “pass[ing] off goods or services as those of another” and “caus[ing] likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the source … of goods” as deceptive trade practices. The claim that publishers passed off the copyrighted songs as their own, so that consumers would license them, “falls squarely within the Copyright Act and is therefore preempted.” However, allegations that the defendants “misrepresented that they owned the copyrighted songs in advertising material without infringing copyrights to the songs” were sufficient, since “[m]aking misrepresentations about a copyrighted work in advertising material—short of licensing the copyrighted works at issue or taking any other action in connection with a copyright owners exclusive rights—is not among the exclusive rights enumerated in § 106 of the Copyright Act.” This doesn’t seem right under Dastar—the interpretation of “source” is usually the same under state and federal law, and Dastar’s reasoning should justify conflict preemption of state law anyway.
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