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Mapp v. UMG Recordings, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 16, 2018




         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant UMG Recordings, Inc. (“Defendant”). (“Motion, ” Doc. 54). Plaintiff Desmond Mapp (“Plaintiff”) has filed an Opposition, (Doc. 60), and Defendant has filed a Reply in further support of the Motion. (Doc. 61).

         For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is granted.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiff is a record producer, singer, and songwriter residing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Doc. 51 at 2). Defendant is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California that is engaged in the business of manufacturing, distributing, and selling records in various mediums and formats. (Id. at 2).

         Tyga Music, LLC (“Tyga Music”) is an entity formed to furnish the recording services of Michael Stevenson (“Tyga”) exclusively to Young Money Entertainment, LLC (“Young Money”). (Id.). Young Money is “party to an agreement” with Cash Money Records, Inc. (“Cash Money”) providing Cash Money the right to exclusively manufacture, distribute, promote, and exploit records from Young Money. (Id. at 2-3). At all relevant times, Defendant exclusively provided Cash Money access to record manufacturing and distribution services “throughout the World.” (Id. at 3).

         In November 2011, Plaintiff produced a wordless musical composition entitled “Molly.” (Id.). He was the owner of the copyright in this composition and “all exclusive rights under copyright.” (Id.).

         In September 2012, Plaintiff signed an agreement offering to “convey” Molly to Tyga Music so that Tyga could add lyrics. (Id.). Tyga Music agreed to pay Plaintiff an advance of $10, 000 plus royalties based on the sale of the completed composition. (Id.). After Tyga added lyrics, Tyga and Tyga Music “conveyed” copyright in the completed composition to Young Money and Cash Money “and/or their agents and assigns.” (Id. at 4).

         At some later date, Young Money or Cash Money “conveyed” copyright in the completed composition to Defendant, which began exploiting it as a single in March 2013 and on Tyga's album in April 2013. (Id.).

         Tyga Music never paid Plaintiff the advance or the full value of the royalties. (Id. at 4-5). Therefore, Plaintiff filed suit in state court and, in April 2015, the agreement between Plaintiff and Tyga Music was judicially dissolved, with the court reserving to Plaintiff the right to seek damages. (Id. at 5).

         In June 2015, Plaintiff sent Cash Money and Defendant a cease-and-desist letter notifying them that the agreement between him and Tyga Music had been dissolved. (Id.). In August 2015, Plaintiff filed a copyright registration for the version of Molly without lyrics and has received confirmation of the filing of his copyright case and made a “complete material deposit.” (Id.).

         According to Plaintiff, Plaintiff and Defendant are the co-owners of the completed composition “[b]y virtue of the exclusive transfer of copyright ownership by [Tyga], Tyga Music, Young Money and/or Cash Money to [Defendant] (i.e. [Defendant] stepping into the shoes of [Tyga], Tyga Music, Young Money and/or Cash Money) and the dissolution of the September 1, 2012 Agreement.” (Id. at 6). Defendant has sold thousands of copies of Tyga's album and of the completed composition, and also has leased, licensed, or rented the completed composition, but Defendant has failed to pay Plaintiff his share of the income earned from the completed composition. (Id. at 5-6). Plaintiff also contends that Defendant “claims to be the exclusive transferee of copyright” in the completed composition. (Id. at 4).

         On the foregoing grounds, Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint seeks an accounting of the profits earned from the completed composition and alleges claims of “unjust enrichment/quantum meruit/constructive trust, ” conversion, and negligence. (Id. at 7-10).

         II. Procedural History

         This action was initiated on September 9, 2015, by the filing of a Complaint (Doc. 1), which was superseded almost immediately by an Amended Complaint (Doc. 2). In relevant part, the Amended Complaint alleged that Plaintiff was the sole copyright holder in Molly and that Defendant had infringed Plaintiff's “copyright and exclusive rights under copyright” by distributing or selling Molly without Plaintiff's “permission or consent.” (Id. at 5-6). The Amended Complaint also raised state law claims for “unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business practices.” (Id. at 8).

         Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings, (Doc. 16), and the Court ultimately granted the motion, (Doc. 44). The Court analyzed the authorship of the completed composition and ruled that “the evidence, even viewed in light most favorable to Plaintiff, indisputably shows that [the completed composition] was a joint work by [Tyga] and Plaintiff. Therefore, they are coauthors and co-owners.” (Doc. 44 at 16).

         The Court then considered the scope of the rights that Tyga could convey or license to Cash Money and, ultimately, to Defendant. (Id. at 17-24). The Court ruled that Tyga could grant an “exclusive license” as to his own interest but not as to Plaintiff's interest; “Plaintiff, for all intents and purposes, may regard the alleged ‘exclusive license' as a nonexclusive license that does not infringe upon his copyright.” (Id. at 23). The Court also dismissed Plaintiff's state law claims for lack of supplemental jurisdiction. (Id. at 29-31). Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the dismissal of his state law claims, arguing that diversity jurisdiction existed. (Doc. 45). The Court ruled that it would permit Plaintiff to further amend his pleadings to clearly allege diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 48 at 10, 15). The Court also stated that Plaintiff was “free to allege additional state law causes of action under the facts currently alleged.” (Id. at 12). It also stated that Plaintiff would not be permitted “leave to allege new factual allegations to which Defendants did not already have notice.” (Id. at 14; see also Id. at 15 (“Plaintiff will not be permitted to state new factual allegations in his amended complaint.”)).

         The Third Amended Complaint was filed June 7, 2017. (Doc. 51).

         III. The Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment

         Defendant moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (Doc. 54 at 1). First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's allegation that he and Defendant co-own the completed composition is a “new factual allegation” of which Defendant did not have notice and is inconsistent with his prior allegations and theories and the Court's prior ruling. (Doc. 54-1 at 6-7). Relatedly, Defendant argues that, consistent with the Court's prior ruling, it is a licensee, not a co-owner, and as such it is not susceptible to a claim for an accounting. (Id. at 8-11).

         Next, Defendant argues that the Copyright Act preempts Plaintiff's unjust enrichment, conversion, and negligence claims. (Id. at 11-16). Defendant further maintains that Plaintiff's unjust enrichment, conversion, and negligence claims are prescribed under state law. (Id. at 16-17). Finally, Defendant argues that (1) unjust enrichment is unavailable because Plaintiff has other remedies at law; (2) Plaintiff's conversion claim fails because he did not allege interference with “a moveable or chattel”; and (3) Plaintiff's negligence claim fails because he has not alleged facts to support the conclusion that Defendant owed him a duty. (Id. at 17-20).

         In opposition, Plaintiff first claims that Defendant is a transferee of a co-ownership interest in the completed composition because it received an exclusive license from Cash Money to distribute “Cash Money product” in the United States. (Doc. 60 at 4-7). Next, Plaintiff argues that Defendant did not timely oppose the filing of the Third Amended Complaint and that Defendant had notice of Plaintiff's allegations, as they are based on Defendant's “agreements with Cash Money, the scope of the rights granted and the legal effect of the exclusive grant of rights.” (Id. at 7-8). Plaintiff argues that, because Defendant and Plaintiff are co-owners of “at least some quantum of copyright, ” an action for accounting is proper, and the Court should deny the Motion or delay ruling until discovery is complete. (Id. at 8-9).

         Plaintiff also contends that his claims for unjust enrichment, conversion, and negligence are not preempted by the Copyright Act and that the prescriptive period for these claims began to run in June 2015, when Defendant continued distributing the song after receiving a cease-and-desist letter. (Id. at 9-10). Plaintiff also requests that, if the Court considers this motion as a motion for summary ...

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