Monday, May 02, 2016

Copyright Law: Sound Engineer's Claim of Music Ownership Time-Barred


If you think you are a co-owner of a copyrighted work, when do you need to speak up or sue before you lose your rights?

The Second Circuit considered this question in Mahan v. Roc Nation LLC, --- Fed. Appx. --- (2d Cir.  February 24, 2016).   Chauncey Mahan brought an action for a declaratory judgment that he was the co-owner of copyrights in songs that he engineered for Roc-A-Fella records in 1999 and 2000, as well as claims for conspiracy, conversion and trespass to chattels.   Here's the background: fourteen years after the sessions, Mahan sent a demand for $100k for storage fees for unpublished sound recordings.  Roc-A-Fella responded by sending the LAPD to seize Mahan's materials.  Mahan responded with the lawsuit.

Claims of co-ownership of a copyright must be brought within three years of accrual.   A claim accrues when a reasonably diligent plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury upon which the claim is premised.   Claims of co-ownership typically accrue upon an "express repudiation" of ownership.   This may happen, for example, where a book is published without the alleged co-author's name or an alleged co-owner does not receive royalties.

Mahan lost the case.  Additionally, because the Second Circuit agreed that his claims were "objectively unreasonable" it upheld the district court's grant of attorneys fees at 90% of the lodestar rate.

My book Copyright Litigation Handbook (Thomson Reuters West 2015-2016) contains information for attorneys evaluating legal claims before they go to court.   As Mahan shows, legal fees may be assessed against a plaintiff under the Copyright Act.  Copyright Litigation Handbook has an entire chapter on attorneys fees under the Copyright Act.

Read the full text of Mahan here.
 Copyright law, fine art and navigating the courts. All practice, no theory.Copyright Litigation Handbook (Thomson Reuters Westlaw 2015-2016) by Raymond J. Dowd
 Copyright Litigation Handbook on Westlaw

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