Hollywood Docket: Pre-1972 Music; 'Barely Lethal' Lawsuit; Aimee Mann Settlement

Entertainment law developments, including an appeal concerning Ray Charles' songs and a guilty plea from a Megaupload computer programmer.

More litigation has been filed over pre-1972 sound recordings. On Friday, Beach Road Music brought separate putative class actions alleging at least $5 million in damages against Sony Entertainment, Apple Inc., Rdio and Escape Media Group.

The plaintiff says it manages more than 3,000 musical copyrights for the estates of Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby, and has acquired the master recordings of popular songs owned by Coed Records, Inc., a label whose acts included the Crests, the Rivieras and the Duprees, during its heyday between 1958 and 1965.

The lawsuits allege the defendants are performing and distributing music without authorization and compensation. The actions follow victories by the The Turtles and the RIAA against SiriusXM. The issue of whether state laws protect pre-'72 recordings is an issue that's headed to an appeals court.

Here's the complaint against Sony from attorneys at Hausfeld LLP.

In other entertainment law news:

  • Peregrine Entertainment Capital alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Main Street Films, the producer of Barely Lethal, has breached a financing agreement. The film about a teenage spy who fakes her own death stars Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Alba and Hailee Steinfeld and is currently in postproduction. Peregrine says it put up $1 million for the film in return for a 17.5 percent ownership interest, but says it had an agreement where Peregrine could sell 8.75 percent back to Main Street within one year for $500,000. Peregrine says it gave timely notice of doing just that, but Main Street failed to remit the money. Here's the complaint filed by attorney Gregory Aldisert at Kinsella Weitzman.

  • Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter Aimee Mann has settled her lawsuit against MediaNet, a white label that has served up more than 22 million songs to more than 40 music services, including Yahoo Music, Playlist.com, eBay and various online radio services. In her July 2013 lawsuit, Mann said that 120 of her songs had been infringed upon the expiration of a license agreement signed in 2003. MediaNet argued that it had an ongoing statutory license even after the agreement's termination, but a judge rejected much of the company's interpretation. The terms of the settlement haven't been revealed, but Mann has agreed to put her music back on the service, commenting, "I feel confident that they are making every effort to license their content correctly in a way that protects the rights of artists and songwriters." She was represented by Henry Gradstein and Maryann Marzano of Gradstein & Marzano.
  • With many of Ray Charles' hit songs at stake, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last week over whether the Ray Charles Foundation, a charity that supports the vision- or hearing-impaired, has standing to challenge copyright terminations made by the singer's children. In January 2013, Charles' children were given victory by a California federal judge after being sued by the foundation. The lawsuit alleged that the children were told before the singer's death that they would each be given an irrevocable trust for $500,000 — and that's all they'd get. The judge threw out the breach-of-contract claim and refused to declare the termination notices invalid on the grounds that termination provisions of copyright law only applied to authors, statutory heirs and grantees of transfers and their successors — not beneficial owners. Here's a video of last week's arguments on the subject. The songs at stake include "I Got a Woman," "A Fool for You" and "Mary Ann" and have been valued at $25 million.
  • In a development on the Megaupload front, Andrus Nomm showed up in a Virginia federal court and pled guilty to commit copyright infringement. The Estonian man who worked as a computer programmer for Megaupload is the first to enter such plea, and after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, has been sentenced to one year in prison. His former colleagues at Megaupload remain overseas and continue to fight extradition, including Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, who later this year is scheduled to battle the U.S. government's attempt to get him from New Zealand.
  • News Corp has appointed David Pitofsky as its new general counsel and chief compliance officer. Succeeding Gerson Zweifach, he will oversee global legal operations at the company, including litigation, mergers and acquisitions, ethics and corporate governance matters. Pitofsky has been at News Corp. since 2013, following stints as a federal prosecutor and a partner at Goodwin Procter.