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Pryor v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 20, 2014

Lorenzo Pryor et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. et al., Defendants.

ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS WARNER/CHAPPELL MUSIC, INC. AND T-BOY MUSIC, LLC'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT [19]

RONALD S.W. LEW, Senior District Judge.

Currently before the Court is Defendants Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. and T-Boy Music, LLC's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint [19]. Plaintiffs Lorenzo Pryor, Trena Steward, and Karla Ray (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed their Opposition on December 17, 2013 [24]. Defendants Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. and T-Boy Music, LLC filed a Reply on December 24, 2013 [27]. This matter was taken under submission on January 2, 2014 [31]. Having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to the Motion, and having considered all arguments presented to the Court, the Court NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:

Defendants Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. and T-Boy Music, LLC's Motion to Dismiss is hereby GRANTED.

I. Background

Plaintiffs are children of the deceased David Pryor, of the music group Thunder & Lightning. Third Amended Compl. ("TAC") ¶¶ 4-6. Each of the Plaintiffs has an ownership interest in the song entitled "Bumpin' Bus Stop, " which was written by David Pryor. Id.

Defendant Erik Francis Schrody a/k/a Everlast ("Everlast") is an American singer and songwriter; he is the front-man for the rap group House of Pain. Id . at ¶ 7. Defendant Warner Bros. Records, Inc. ("WB Records") is an American record company engaged in the business of manufacturing, selling, and distributing musical recordings. Id . Defendant WB Records is owned by its parent company, Warner Music Group ("WMG"). Defendant Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. ("WB Entertainment") is a multi-media entertainment company that owns a television production division known as Warner Bros. Television, which creates and produces television content for various networks. Id . Defendant Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. ("Warner/Chappell") is an American music publisher owned and operated by its parent company WMG. Id . Defendant Rhino Entertainment Company ("Rhino") is an American record company owned by WMG. Defendant WEA International, Inc. ("WEA") ships and distributes WMG and Rhino affiliated musical recordings internationally. Id . Defendant T-Boy Music, LLC ("TB Music") is an American music publishing company that publishes, produces, and distributes music. Id.

Plaintiffs are the heirs of David Pryor, who wrote the musical composition entitled "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . at ¶ 9. David Pryor also produced and recorded the fixed sound recording for "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . After he wrote the composition for "Bumpin' Bus Stop, " David Pryor rented studio time, space, and equipment from Gold Future Recording Studio in Kirkwood, Missouri. Id . at ¶¶ 10-11. That recording session with David Pryor and his band, the Play Boys, resulted in a recording bearing the Gold Future label and artwork. Id . at ¶ 11. On the A-Side of the Gold Future record, David Pryor says "Hey Gang, let me show you something! It's the hottest thing and it's on its way to the top! Step up front... you dig! Get down with the Bus Stop!" Id . at ¶ 12. In 1974, after the Gold Future record was fully mixed and complete, David Pryor had a copyright notice stamped on his record while he and his band members promoted and distributed the record. Id . at ¶ 13.

In 1975, after David Pryor presented his Gold Future record to Private Stock Records, Private Stock Records used its equipment to enhance the mix and sound quality of the original recording for "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . at ¶ 14. Private Stock Records changed the name of David Pryor's band to "Thunder & Lightning, " changed the record title's spelling, and changed the record's artwork. Id.

Private Stock Record's music publisher, Caesar's Music Library ("Caesar's Music"), federally registered the composition to "Bumpin' Bus Stop" in January 1975 (Reg. No. Eu563138 and Eu563139). Id . at ¶ 15. The registrations misattribute authorship and omit that the work was based on David Pryor's preexisting 1974 work. Id.

David Pryor did not give Caesar's Music an assignment of rights or an exclusive license to the composition or record for "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . at ¶ 16. David Pryor likewise did not grant Caesar's Music an assignment or transfer of his renewal rights in the composition or record for "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . Private Stock Records obtained a compulsory license to distribute the record of "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id.

David Pryor died on May 14, 2006. Id . at ¶ 18. David Pryor did not discover any of the alleged acts of infringement by the Defendants during his lifetime. Id . at ¶ 19. On June 16, 2011, the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri, entered a Judgment Determining Heirs, granting ownership rights in the recording and composition of "Bumpin' Bus Stop" to Trena Steward, Lorenzo Pryor, Karla Ray, Sheila Hines, and Margaret Pryor. Id . at ¶ 20, Ex. 3.

After the entry of the Judgment Determining Heirs, Plaintiffs demanded that Private Stock Records and Caesar's Music either furnish proof of any claim of ownership or correct the inaccurate copyright registrations. Id . at ¶ 22. On August 16, 2011, Caesar's Music assigned to Plaintiffs any and all of its purported rights in and to "Bumpin' Bus Stop" in exchange for a release of claims made by Plaintiffs. Id . On October 16, 2012, Private Stock Records did the same. Id.

Plaintiffs' composition and recording rights are the subject of Copyright Registration Nos. V3612D942 and V3613D044. Id . at ¶ 23.

Plaintiffs discovered that Caesar's Music entered into a sample agreement, dated June 16, 1998, with Defendant TB Music to sample and create derivative works based on the composition for "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . at ¶ 25. Plaintiffs allege that Caesar's Music was not authorized to consent to the making of derivative works based on the composition for "Bumpin' Bus Stop." Id . Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant TB Music gave unauthorized permission to Defendants WB Entertainment, Rhino, WEA, Warner/Chappell, and WB Records to use, exploit, and distribute a sample of the composition and record to "Bumpin' Bus Stop" by releasing a record entitled "Get Down." Id . "Get Down" allegedly features Defendant Everlast and bears the copyright ...


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