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Halper v. Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 17, 2017

MARK HALPER, Plaintiff,
v.
SONY/ATV MUSIC PUBLISHING, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JEFFERY S. FRENSLEY United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction and Background

         This matter is before the Court upon a Motion to Dismiss and Incorporated Memorandum of Law filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) by Defendants Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI April Music Inc., Gone Gator Music, Universal-Polygram International Tunes, Inc., Sony/ATV Songs LLC, and UMG Recordings, Inc. Docket No. 25. In support of their Motion, Defendants have contemporaneously filed the Declaration of Elizabeth Gonser with attached Exhibit. Docket No. 26.

         Plaintiff has filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion. Docket No. 28.

         With leave of Court (Docket No. 31), Defendants have filed a Reply (Docket No. 29-1).

         Also with leave of Court (Docket Nos. 40, 43), Plaintiff has filed a Sur-Reply (Docket No. 44).

         Plaintiff, pro se, filed this copyright infringement action alleging that “Sam Smith, Capitol Recording artist, used and replicated phraseology and significant phrase ‘stay with me' eight (8) times in the body of his mega hit song ‘Stay with Me' thereby copying and infringing upon the original musical production of Plaintiff Mark Halper whose original song ‘Don't Throw Our Love Away' written in April 1984 and musically recorded as a demo in a Nashville studio in February 1986 and a second demo musically recorded in 2013 that began in line 1 with the phraseology and significant phrase ‘stay with me' and continued in line 2 with the phraseology ‘lay with me.'” Docket No. 1, p. 2. Plaintiff argues that Defendants gained access to his work through the production and “wide[]” dissemination of two (2) demos of “Don't Throw Our Love Away” to “some of the most successful music producers and recording artists of that time.” Id. at 6. Specifically, Plaintiff argues:

The first demo was produced in 1986 and the second demo was produced in 2013 with two different arrangements and sung by two different female singers. In between, there was also a demo sung by a male singer. The cassette demo of “Don't Throw Our Love Away” was first produced and widely disseminated to some of the most successful music producers of that period (1986) to include Garth Fundis (3/7/86), Don Lanier (3/7/86), Brent Maher (3/7/86), Paul Worley (3/10/86), Rich Alves and Tom Collins (4/8/86), and Brian Rawlings (4/8/86) and also widely disseminated to some of the most successful recording artists and entertainers of that period (1986) to include Lee Greenwood (3/7/86), Don Williams (3/7/86), Reba McEntire (3/7/86), Crystal Gayle (4/9/86), Sylvia (4/9/86), Gary Morris (4/9/86), Barbara Mandrell (4/9/86), Ronnie Milsap (4/10/86), and Dolly Parton (1/8/90). The demo of “Don't Throw Our Love Away” was also sent to Marvin Hamlisch before he died. The third demo was produced and widely disseminated in 2013 to include one of the most successful music producers of that period (2013), Emilio Estefan via referral from a mutual friend Gladys Passes whose name was Julio, and to include one of the most successful recording artists, Gloria Estefan via referral from that same mutual friend of Gladys Passes whose name was Julio.

Id.

         Plaintiff contends that the “phraseology ‘stay with me' has now become readily and instantly recognizable and forever engrained [sic] in the hearts, souls, and minds of music lovers around the world.” Id. Plaintiff asserts that the phraseology ‘stay with me' and ‘lay with me' first written by him and appearing in his original 1984 song “Don't Throw Our Love Away” and subsequently copyrighted with Certificate of Registration, Registration Number Pau003785645 contains a protectable expression. Id. at 8. Plaintiff therefore maintains:

In this case, we are not talking about substantial similarity. We are talking about the exact and identical phraseology and significant phrase ‘stay with me' being used and replicated eight (8) times throughout the song “Stay With Me” and then the exact and identical phraseology ‘lay with me' being used as a counterpart in “Stay With Me”.
All told, 26% of the song “Stay With Me” represents use of and replication of the phraseology significant phrase of Plaintiff's original song “Don't Throw Our Love Away”. Without the court and your Honor granting Plaintiff copyright infringement protection on the phraseology and significant phrase ‘stay with me' (at the very least) and realistically to include the counterpart phraseology ‘lay with me, ' the songwriters Samuel Smith, James Napier, William Phillips and now to include Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne will be in a strong legal position to exert control over and ownership of this phraseology significant phrase. Since “Don't Throw Our Love Away” was never published, without this copyright infringement protection, it is unlikely that any singer or publisher would proceed to record “Don't Throw Our Love Away”, thus denying Plaintiff rightfully deserved marketing, retail sales, and promotional value. All recognition and revenue would continue to go directly to Samuel Smith, James Napier, William Phillips, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne through Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC to include all the Defendants named in this lawsuit.

Id. at 7.

         Plaintiff explains:

There are two (2) key elements most relevant to this case. The first is to understand what has occurred prior to the filing of the copyright infringement claim involving the phraseology contained in the first two lines of “Don't Throw Our Love Away” as previously originally written by Plaintiff, i.e. ‘stay with me' and ‘lay with me'. The second is to understand in fact that a willful infringement has been perpetuated by Defendant since the initial letter was sent by Plaintiff Mark Halper to Jeff Smaar, VP Global Copyright Administration, SONY ATV SONGS LLC the designated office for Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, advising them of a copyright infringement claim, and acknowledged by Jeff Smaar as being received on February 25, 2015. There was then the formal filing of the copyright infringement claim in Federal court. From the very beginning, there has been a refusal and failure by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC to communicate with Plaintiff in any meaningful manner. It represents and clearly shows the intent of the Defendants to deny and deprive the Plaintiff of any financial gain and recognition for that which he created while every entity and member associated with Defendants has received significant career and financial benefits and gain.

Id. at 8-9.

         Plaintiff sues Defendants seeking:

a. Acknowledge contribution with co-songwriting credit for “Stay With Me” to include Plaintiff Mark Halper to be added to Samuel Smith, James Napier, and William Phillips for lyrics while acknowledging that following the out of court settlement as referenced above, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty have been added to the songwriting credit of “Stay With Me”.
b. 28% royalty from the single “Stay With Me” and the CD album “In the Lonely Hour” and the subsequent CD album “In the Lonely Hour” (Drowning Shadows Edition), produced and distributed by Capitol Records and publishing revenue containing the song “Stay With Me” which propelled the CD album to sales in excess of 2 million copies in both the US, the UK as well as many countries internationally with sales and revenue having been received through new technology to include, but not limited to [sic] downloading and streaming through Apple, YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify as well as the previously considered four principle sources of revenue for compositions which include mechanical royalties, performance royalties, sale of sheet music & folios, and profits of record label(2) [sic].
c. 28% financial compensation from the financial arrangement and compensation paid for use of the excerpt of the song “Stay With Me” with Sam Smith singing the phraseology and significant phrase “stay with me” for a commercial promo for the Universal mini-series production of AD - The Bible Continues which began airing 3/30/15 during ...

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