Case analysis Riley Records v. The C&C Experience
In the year of 2006 three persons Riley De Smit, Candace Liu, and Celine Sze initiated a singing band named as “The C&C Experience” in New York. This three people started to write up the songs together and also performed in the nearby coffee shops or restaurants or like places. These songs are named as the song in the matter. The songs belong to the category of typical Asian Raps. They create the songs in sometime at 2006. The main fact was that both the parties that plaintiff and he defendant will create the songs along with the help of those mentioned three people. This singing band continues their performance in the local level and family gathering till the year of 2007. After some time the conflict stated between the band and DE Smith. They possess different views regarding the band’s future. Three people are not obtaining the same view. De Smith suggests for the commercialisation of the songs because it will somehow help the band to get more wide range of audience. But the other two people stated that they create those songs for spreading joy to the people. But the commercialization will not serve he purpose. It can give the fame but the original purpose will be hampered as claimed by the other two partners. De Smith wanted to shift to California where they will get much bigger audience. But the other two friends want to stay in the New York City. In addition to it there is another conflict between them regarding the band’s name. Other two friends denied changing the name o the band as proposed by De Smith. In 2007 De Smith shifted to Los Angeles and leave New York. In between the year of 2008 -10 he executed an agreement with a big recording company for the fame in the industry. This agreement helps him to get more and more contacts which actually help him to attain his dream to be famous. Riley Records, a newly initiated company wants some fresh singers for their recording. In 2011 he signed and contract with the record company and uses the songs made by the three people in the band in New York. He claimed that he was the solo writers of the song. 15 second of the song was written by him and the remaining was written by the other as claimed by him. But he uses those songs. The band knows about the matter but they were not interested in taking any legal action against him. Other two members are continuing their performance in the local level. They create a video and upload it in the internet. After watching that video De Smith filed a case against the band. The allegation was made for the violation of copy right protection.
The issues that arise in this situation are as follows:
Whether the plaintiff has been unlawfully deprived of his rights under copyright protection?
Whether the defendants can be asked to pay compensation or damages to the plaintiff for having deprived him of his lawful rights under the provisions of the existing copyright law?
Whether Mr. DeSmit has done any wrong by using the fifteen seconds of the song that belonged to C&C Experience?
What is the rationale behind the application of the relevant copyright laws in the given circumstances?
A musical composition is said to be consisting of music and any other words that accompany the music, its composition and the associated sound recordings. The author of a musical composition is generally the person who composes the musical note or the lyricist associated with the song. Such a piece of musical composition can be recorded in any form irrespective of its usage (Barron).
The existing copyright law allows the artists and the composers to reap all the economic benefits which arise out of their creation by allowing them to have total control over when and how the music can be reproduced or distributed in terms of the agreement with the producers. As far as bands are concerned, the authors of the song are entitled to similar rights provided that certain things are kept in mind (Roland). Before getting into the composition, especially when the song is being written with someone else, the authors should clearly decide amongst themselves as to who would own the song. If such an agreement remains absent, then all the collaborators keep an equal interest in the copyright of the musical work (Wherry).
A piece of ‘musical work’ is considered to be a joint work if it is prepared by two or more composers with the intention that their work would be merged into a single piece of song inseparable from the other parts of each composers (Moser and Slay). In the absence of any written agreement among the composers, the song cannot be split with regard to ownership issues (Goldman).
In the given situation, the members of C&C Experience, jointly authored the song titled “This Song” in the year 2006. As such, the copyright in the song remains in action till a period of 20 years. But Mr. De Smit made himself walk away from the band and opened up Riley Records. There, he wrote another song titled “The Other Song” which contained fifteen seconds exactly as similar as the one present in “This Song”. The other two members of the band subsequently sued Mr. DeSmit for having earned profits on their work.
The law point in this issue states that ownership is likely to depend on who is the “author” of the recordings (Turner). In this case, since the facts remain absolutely silent on who is the split owner of any part, hence the song shall be presumed to have been created by all the three composers.
Since, the sound recording under question has been jointly authored, any band member (in this case Mr. DeSmit) is entitled to use the license of these recordings on a non-exclusive basis, as long as he pays the other members their pro-rata share of the earnings. In this case because Mr DeSmit has not availed of this permission neither has he cared to seek for a permission, he cannot earn royalty out of it nor can his recording unit claim those fifteen seconds to belong exclusively to them. Although the act has not been challenged here, but this is a clear instance of copyright infringement.
As far as the issue with Mr. De Smith is concerned, it must be noted that he has already made a decision to leave C&C Experience and he has also taken steps in this regard. He has formed his own company Riley Records. Thus, as far as the present scenario is concerned, he is not a member of C&C Experience anymore and has ceased to be able to earn any profits or goodwill or fame which they get in the process of their musical work.
Following this we can say that Ms. Liu and Ms. Sze, are free to perform any work that belonged to C&C Experience even if Mr. De Smit has absolved from being a part of the band.
In the given situation, the members of C&C Experience under the name of their band have performed on their creation “This Song” in a public forum. Since, they have not claimed the song to have been written by them alone nor have they reproduced the song in any other form, they cannot be said to have infringed the copyright of Mr. DeSmit.
They have in no way made the words of the song unrecognizable by either changing the music or the words. The song is exactly the same as it was produced and thus, Ms. Liu and Ms. Sze continue to retain the copyright and the songwriting credits of the song titled “This Song”. In order to sue them, Mr. Desmit needs to show at least any one of the two essential requirements of which one is to show ownership of the allegedly infringed song or he has to show that the alleged infringers have violated at least one exclusive right granted to him (Sadie).
In this case, neither of the above two requirements can be fulfilled by him. Because he has himself moved out of the band, he is not entitled to claim ownership over the song because the owner in this case is the band titled C&C Experience. At the same time, he can also not say that the alleged infringers have violated his rights because they have not given any individual performance of the song. Rather they have performed under the name of their band and due credits should be given to them for the same. No royalty can be claimed by Mr. DeSmit once he has decided to irrevocably move out of the band.
Further, the video that went viral was also not uploaded by C&C Experience. It was the act of a fan who did that. Hence, the members cannot be blamed for copyright infringement in any case. What they have done is under total authority of the band and the royalty earned by them is also lawful. They have in no way been responsible for having caused any damage to the copyright of Mr. DeSmit. There has been no infringement of the copyright rights of the plaintiff.
It can be concluded saying that the case involved whether Mr. DeSmit’s copyright rights have been infringed by the members of C&C Experience or not. The plaintiff is unlawfully claiming the rights in the case and thus, the decision of the court stands that the plaintiff cannot be granted any damages on the basis of copyright infringement (Greene).
The judge agrees on this point and lays down that the claim raised by the plaintiff stands cancelled and he is liable to receive no damages.
The Court has labored to fashion a reasonable limit on statutory damages awards against individuals who illegally claim a piece of music to be their own such that the award of statutory damages does not veer into the realm of gross injustice.
Finally, the Court rejects the contentions of the Plaintiff in this suit.
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