Monday, October 7, 2013

Court Won't "Rubber Stamp" Request for Injunction

Broadcast Music, Inc. sued a bar (Evie's Tavern Ellenton) and its owner for copyright infringement.  The bar played a number of songs without license, and BMI sought to enforce its rights.  The bar defended by arguing that BMI didn't have proper title to the copyrights at issue.  At summary judgment, BMI proved otherwise (documenting the chain of title sufficiently to convince the Court that it owned the licenses for five of the works at issue).

Defendants' argument was an attempt to rely on 17 U.S.C. 204(a), which provides:

(a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner's duly authorized agent.
Defendants' argument was that, in the chain of transfers, there was a gap in an assignment, where the principal of one of the corporate owners of one of the copyrights drafted a letter assigning his rights, but that letter was not sufficient to transfer the interest his corporation had in the copyright.  [Notably, the Court was not persuaded with Defendant's evidence, and had this to say:
As an initial matter, and before reaching the merits of the dispute, the Court will pause to note that the documents submitted by the defendants that purport to be declarations are woefully inadequate.  The Court will, therefore strike all statements that are not facts based on Mr. Evanoff's personal knowledge.  In effect, that leaves only portions of [certain paragraphs of Defendants' motion and affidavit].  All other paragraphs are stricken, and the Court will consider the legal arguments contained within them to the extent they have merit.
] Ouch.  The Court did not spend much time addressing the 204(a) claim:
when (as in this case) there is no dispute between the copyright owner and the transferee about the status of the copyright, it would be unusual and unwarranted to permit a third-party infringer to invoke section 204(a) to avoid suit for copyright infringement.
Finding that the bar had infringed at least 5 works, the Court turned to BMI's request for an injunction.  No "rubber stamp" here:
There is no question that the entry of a permanent injunction seems entirely appropriate in this case.  In fact, it has been quite customary in these types of cases to permanently enjoin further acts of infringement simply as a matter of course.  But in light of the Supreme Court's admonition in eBay, that all four factors must be given thoughtful consideration prior to issuing permanent injunction, the Court is not willing to simply "rubber stamp" BMI's request.  See eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange, LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006).  ... A finding of liability of copyright infringement does not conclusively establish the remaining principles of equity that form the basis for injunctive relief.  
BMI's request for injunctive relief was denied without prejudice, so that the parties could meet and confer to determine if they could agree to appropriate relief.

Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Denied; Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment Granted in Part, Denied in Part.
Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Evie's Tavern Ellenton, Inc., Case No. 8:11-CV-2056 (Sept. 30, 2013) (J. Kovachevich)

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