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Massacre v. Davies

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

May 12, 2014

BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE, a doing business as designation for ANTON NEWCOMBE, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY DAVIES, an individual, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS, STRIKE, OR TRANSFER Re: Dkt. Nos. 30, 31

NATHANAEL M. COUSINS, Magistrate Judge.

Defendant moves to dismiss, or in the alternative to strike, portions of plaintiff's amended complaint in this copyright authorship dispute. Dkt. No. 31. The Court finds that plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to state a claim, and sufficient to allege standing. The Court also finds that plaintiff has properly alleged that the Copyright Act's statute of limitations applies to defendant's claims of joint authorship. The motion to dismiss or strike is therefore denied.

Defendant also moves to dismiss for improper venue, or to transfer venue to the Central District of California. Dkt. No. 30. The Court finds that venue is proper in the Northern District of California because defendant purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of the laws of this forum by creating and performing music in San Francisco that is now the subject of this authorship dispute. Finally, the Court finds that transfer to the Central District of California would not serve the interest of justice or the convenience of the parties and witnesses. For these reasons, the Court denies defendant's motions.

BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Anton Newcombe is a musician who has "produced, recorded and released more than a dozen albums of original music" as the band Brian Jonestown Massacre. Dkt. No. 29 at ¶ 1. Newcombe resided in San Francisco from the inception of Brian Jonestown Massacre through mid-1997, but currently resides in Berlin, Germany. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 13. Newcombe alleges that from the inception of Brian Jonestown Massacre, he alone "has exercised sole and exclusive ownership, administration and/or control of th[e] creative output (including the copyrights in and thereto) without interruption or objection of any kind." Id. at ¶ 2.

Defendant Jeffrey Davies "participated in BJM off-and-on from 1992 to approximately 1999." Id. at ¶ 1. Newcombe alleges that nearly 16 years after performing with Newcombe, "Davies, via his counsel, threatened suit against Newcombe, claiming to be co-author' and thus co-owner of the Subject Works and asserting a claim for a share of the proceeds from the exploitation of those works." Id. at ¶ 6. The Subject Works, according to Newcombe, were either musical compositions, "almost all of which Newcombe wrote in whole or substantial part" or were musical performances that Newcombe produced, recorded, directed and in which Newcombe was the featured performer. Id. at ¶ 7.

Newcombe alleges that in or about May 1997, Newcombe and Davies met to discuss "the creative contributions and the right in and to the existing subject Works of those involved in BJM." Id. at ¶ 5. Newcombe alleges that he and Davies agreed that Davies "was entitled to a songwriter credit for [] three songs only: Straight Up and Down, ' Monster, ' and Straight Up and Down II.'" Id. Newcombe alleges that his attorney registered the works to reflect that agreement. Id. Newcombe now concedes that "Davies has a 50% ownership interest in the copyrights in and to the three songs for which there are contemporaneous copyright registrations, " but denies that Davies co-authored or has any ownership rights as to any other works. Id. at ¶ 17. Newcombe seeks a declaratory judgment confirming that Davies has no "interest in any of the Subject Works other than a 50% interest" in the three aforementioned songs. Id. at ¶ 1 (Prayer for Relief). Newcombe also seeks an injunction restraining Davies from making future ownership claims contrary to the Court's declaration of rights. Id. at ¶ 2 (Prayer for Relief).

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on August 28, 2013. Dkt. No. 1. Defendant moved to transfer the case to the Central District of California on October 18, 2013. Dkt. No. 8. The Court issued a tentative ruling and ordered further briefing on November 22, 2013. Dkt. No. 19. On January 21, 2014, the Court issued an order for plaintiff to show cause why his case should not be dismissed for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Dkt. No. 24. The Court dismissed the complaint with leave to amend for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction on February 20, 2014. Dkt. No. 28. Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint on February 24, 2014. Dkt. No. 29. On March 10, 2014, defendant filed a motion to dismiss or strike and a motion to change venue. Dkt. Nos. 30, 31. The Court found the motions suitable for disposition without oral argument. Dkt. No. 41.

C. Jurisdiction

The complaint alleges that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction "pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) & (b) in that it arises under the applicable Acts of Congress relating to copyright." Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 6. The Court previously dismissed the initial complaint for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the complaint alleged a dispute solely over copyright ownership, which the Ninth Circuit has found is a matter governed by state law. Scholastic Entm't, Inc. v. Fox Entm't Grp., Inc., 336 F.3d 982, 988 (9th Cir. 2003).

Since then, plaintiff has amended the complaint to allege that the parties dispute whether they are co-authors of joint works under the Copyright Act. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant "threatened suit against Newcombe, claiming to be co-author' and thus co-owner of the Subject Works and asserting a claim for a share of the proceeds from the exploitation of those works." Dkt. No. 29 at ¶ 6. Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Davies "neither had nor has any authorship interest under 17 U.S.C. § 201(a) or any other ownership interest in any of the Subject Works" other than to the three songs in which plaintiff concedes defendant has a 50% ownership interest. Id. at 5, ¶ 1.

These allegations are sufficient to establish federal subject matter jurisdiction under the Copyright Act. Although the Ninth Circuit has not directly decided the issue, "[a]ll of the federal circuit courts of appeal that have addressed the issue... agree that a determination of copyright ownership based on a disputed allegation of co-authorship presents a federal question that arises under, and must be determined according to, the Copyright Act." Cambridge Literary Props., Ltd. v. W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik, 510 F.3d 77, 86 (1st Cir. 2007). This is because the Copyright Act defines joint works and sets forth a detailed scheme that provides copyright protection for works of original authorship. 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-102, 201; see Kings Rd. Entm't, Inc. v. W. Coast Pictures, No. 12-cv-07149 CAS JCGX, 2012 WL 5937968, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 26, 2012) (finding dispute over co-authorship arises under the Copyright Act). Because the amended complaint alleges that the parties ...


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