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In the second chapter — or is it the third or fourth? — in a dispute over Jenni Rivera, the Mexican-American pop superstar who died in a 2012 plane crash, her family has filed a copyright lawsuit against Laura Lucio, Rivera’s former manager. The lawsuit aims to stop Lucio from using writings and interviews and even have law enforcement come to confiscate. The case is far from an open-and-shut one.
In February, Lucio filed her own complaint against Jenni Rivera Enterprises in California state court. In that $5 million lawsuit, Lucio alleged that Rivera had agreed to collaborate with her on a biography called “My Vida Loca.” That book was unpublished at the time of Rivera’s death. Lucio said that interviews, notes and even a “My Vida Loca” draft had been saved on Rivera’s computer. After the plane crash, Lucio said she then learned that Rivera’s family had signed a book deal with Simon and Schuster for “Unbreakable” — which was released last year.
According to Lucio’s legal papers, “95% of the book ‘Unbreakable’ consists of [Lucio’s] writings developed during her collaboration with Jenni Rivera on their book project (“Mi Vida Loca”)…. [Lucio] is the author of these writings, not Jenni Rivera. [Lucio’s] writings were essentially stolen by Defendants and used to publish the book ‘Unbreakable.'”
Lucio brought a conversion claim, but absent in her lawsuit was any allegation that Rivera’s family had physically taken notes and writings within Lucio’s possession. She also wasn’t seeking a return of those materials, merely monetary damages.
Rivera’s family saw this as a dressed-up claim for copyright infringement and had Lucio’s lawsuit removed from state court to federal court, which has jurisdiction over copyright matters. Then, Lucio’s attorney sought to have it remanded back to the state court.
Even though Lucio was successful in getting a judge to grant the remand, it might have been a tactical error.
U.S. District Judge George Wu noted in his opinion on September 11 that there wasn’t any real dispute over whether the conversion claim was really a veiled copyright infringement claim, but nevertheless granted Lucio’s motion on the basis that Rivera’s family had waited too long to remove it to federal court. “Although, having conceded preemption, Lucio might not like what happens once she gets back to state court,” wrote the sly judge.
In a footnote, Judge Wu explained that it was “doubtful” that a state court has jurisdiction over a copyright claim, and that before a plaintiff can sue for copyright infringement, he or she must register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
What happened next is a little mysterious, but perhaps Lucio decided she would be better off just publishing whatever materials she had in her possession. (Maybe not. See update below.) And thus, plaintiff has become a defendant.
According to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday by attorney Anthony Lopez on behalf of Jenni Rivera Enterprises, Lucio is claiming ownership over Rivera’s writings and interviews. Rivera’s family says that Lucio’s collaboration was subject to a written agreement signed in 2007 that assigned copyright to Rivera. The complaint states, “Defendant even falsely listed herself as the author of these copyrighted works, created by Jenni Rivera and/or owned by Jenni Rivera Enterprises, in a registration of a manuscript titled ‘Jenni Rivera, Mi Vida Loca [My Crazy Life] as told to Laura Lucio; with the Writer’s Guild of America’s Intellectual Property Registry.”
Update October 7, 6 pm: Even though the lawsuit alleges Lucio has published work, she tells us, “Just because their claim states that, doesn’t mean there’s grounds or truth.”
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