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Justice v. Ice King Enters. LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 22, 2015

RAYVEN JUSTICE, Plaintiff(s),

For Rayven Justice, Plaintiff: Habib M Bentaleb, LEAD ATTORNEY, Carlton John Willey, Willey & Bentaleb LLP, San Francisco, CA.


DONNA M. RYU, United States Magistrate Judge.

Before the court is a motion for default judgment filed by Plaintiff Rayven Justice against Defendant Ice King Enterprises LLC d/b/a Ice King Music LLC. [Docket No. 32.] The court held a hearing on the motion on January 22, 2015. Defendant did not appear. Defendant has not filed a consent to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Therefore, the court requests that this case be reassigned to a District Judge and issues this recommendation that the motion be granted in part and denied in part.


A. Factual Allegations[1]

1. Parties

Plaintiff is a hip-hop artist who resides in Oakland, California. Defendant is a California limited liability company that seeks to secure record distribution agreements with record labels for the musicians with whom it contracts. Compl. [Docket No. 1] at ¶ ¶ 6-7. Defendant's principal place of business is Richmond, California. Compl. at ¶ 3.

2. The Agreement

On October 31, 2011, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a recording agreement (the " Agreement") under which Plaintiff agreed to provide Defendant with recorded music performances, be available for personal auditions and do other things " reasonably related to securing a Distribution Agreement, " and in return, Defendant would attempt to secure a distribution agreement for Plaintiff with an established music distributor. Id. at ¶ 8, Ex. A (Agreement) at ¶ 2(a). The Agreement describes how profits were to be shared and the responsibilities of each party.

The Agreement grants Plaintiff the right to terminate the agreement: " In the event [Defendant] has failed to enter into a Distribution Agreement furnishing the services of Artist under the Agreement within twenty-four (24) months from execution of this Agreement, [Plaintiff] may terminate the Agreement by written notice to [Defendant]." Id. at ¶ ¶ 9-10; Agreement at ¶ 2(a).

The Agreement states that Defendant " guarantees to compensate [Plaintiff] for his exclusive services hereunder at the rate of not less than Nine Thousand Dollars ($9, 000.00) for the first fiscal year of this Agreement or such other sum as may be required during subsequent Contract Periods to satisfy the provisions relating to injunctive relief under Section 3423 of the California Civil Code and Section 526 of the California Code of Civil Procedure." Compl. at ¶ 11; Agreement at ¶ 12.

3. Performance Under Agreement and Termination

Between October 31, 2011 and October 31, 2013, Plaintiff provided Defendant with approximately fifty master recordings, which Plaintiff alleges was " more than enough to fulfill Plaintiff's obligations under the Agreement." Compl. at ¶ 12. Plaintiff also provided Defendant with numerous public appearances and performances in order to assist in securing a distribution agreement.

On or about October 31, 2013, Defendant attempted to negotiate with a record label, Entertainment One U.S., LP (" eOne Distribution"), for a distribution deal for Plaintiff. On October 31, 2013, counsel for Defendant sent an " extension letter" to Plaintiff, which stated, " Please allow this letter serve as notice that [Defendant] has entered a Distribution Agreement (as the term is commonly understood in the music industry) with eOne Entertainment for your services as a recording artist and songwriter. Accordingly, the Term of this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect." Compl. at ¶ 15, Ex. B (Letter from Tabetha Plummer to Rayven Justice dated October 13, 2013). Despite the claims made in the letter, however, Defendant was unable to secure a deal with eOne Distribution. Therefore, Defendant did not secure a distribution agreement for Plaintiff by October 31, 2013. Compl. at ¶ ¶ 15-16.

On December 10, 2013, counsel for Plaintiff sent a letter to counsel for Defendant to notify Defendant of the termination of the agreement. Compl. at ¶ ¶ 17-18, Ex. C (Letter from Heather Beverly to Tabetha Plummer dated December 10, 2013). The letter stated:

This letter is being sent pursuant to paragraphs 2(A) and 11 of the Agreement and shall serve as notice of termination of the Agreement for the Company's failure to enter into a Distribution Agreement (as defined in the Agreement) within the required time frame . . . . Pursuant to the terms of the Agreement, the Company was required to enter a Distribution Agreement by October 31, 2013. As of the date of this notice, no Distribution Agreement furnishing Rayven's artistic services has been entered. Consequently, this shall serve as Rayven's formal termination of the Agreement and any and all grants of rights and permissions therein.

Compl. at Ex. C.

On December 11, 2013, Defendant sent Plaintiff a letter contending that the Agreement remained in effect between the parties because Defendant had " entered into a Distribution Agreement (as the term is customary [sic] understood in the music industry) with iTunes and TuneCore for the right to distribute records derived from master recordings recorded pursuant to the terms of the Recording Agreement. As such, the Recording Agreement remains in full force and effect . . . . I strongly urge your client to govern himself accordingly." Compl. at Ex. C.

On December 12, 2013, Plaintiff responded to Defendant's letter and reiterated that the " Agreement is terminated." Plaintiff also expressed a desire " to part on amicable terms, " and proposed a " courtesy" reimbursement to Defendant for Defendant's expenses. Compl. at ¶ 19, Ex. E (Letter dated December 12, 2013, with redactions).

On December 17, 2013, Defendant acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's letters from December 10 and 12 and rejected Plaintiff's offer, stating that Defendant " firmly maintains that the Agreement remains in full force and effect." Compl. at ¶ 21, Ex. F.

On December 20, 2013, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant repeating Plaintiff's position that Defendant had failed to meet its obligations under the Agreement and that the Agreement was validly terminated. Defendant never responded to this letter, and Plaintiff sent a letter dated January 31, 2014, which repeated the same positions as Plaintiff's previous letters. Compl. at ¶ ¶ 22-23, Exs. G, H. The January 31, 2014 letter also stated, " If [Defendant] would like for [Plaintiff] to consider renewing the contractual relationship with [Defendant], kindly provide . . . information [about the proposed contract terms] for [Plaintiff's] review and consideration." Compl. at Ex. H. On February 18, 2014, Defendant's counsel replied by email with proposed contract terms. Compl. at Ex. I. The Complaint does not allege that Plaintiff and Defendant actually entered into this proposed agreement.

To date, Defendant has failed to provide any distribution agreement to Plaintiff, and has failed to provide the required compensation under the Agreement. Compl. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's position is that Plaintiff " remains obligated under the Agreement." Compl. at ¶ 50.

4. Unauthorized Use of Plaintiff's Work

After Plaintiff sent the notice of termination to Defendant, Plaintiff continued to record music on his own while seeking to secure a distribution deal. Plaintiff decided to release some of his new songs on a popular mix-tape album with a local disc jockey named DJ Carisma. DJ Carisma created the album and placed it on the music website Compl. at ¶ ¶ 26-27.

On or about February 14, 2014, Plaintiff learned that Defendant released a music album of Plaintiff's work on iTunes without Plaintiff's permission. The album was entitled " I Have A Dream." The album included Plaintiff's songs from the DJ Carisma mix-tape, which Plaintiff alleges Defendant acquired by " unlawfully remov[ing] Plaintiff's songs (created after the notice of termination) from the ...

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