Darwin Quinn & Mitchelle’l Sium v. Roland Powell P/K/A “Lil Duval” and Rich Broke Entertainment, LLC, Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-03163-SDG (N.D. Ga. May 25, 2022)
Plaintiffs Darwin Quinn and Mitchelle’l Sium filed suit against Defendants Roland Powell, professionally known as “Lil Duval” and Rich Broke Entertainment, LLC for copyright infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. on August 4, 2021 in the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta Division). The Complaint alleged that on January 25, 2017, Plaintiff Quinn wrote and recorded an instrumental track and that Plaintiff Sium and Defendant Powell co-wrote and recorded words and melody onto the track, which they entitled “Back n Forth.” The Complaint further alleged that, sometime after January 25, 2017, Defendant Powell worked with producer Corey Dennard (“Mr. Hanky”) to re-record the hook to “Back n Forth” onto an instrumental sound recording created by Mr. Hanky. The new recording was renamed “Smile (Living My Best Life)” and was later commercially released by Empire Distribution, Inc. and registered with the Copyright Office. The Complaint further alleged that Defendants have not paid Plaintiff’s for their unauthorized reproduction, distribution, performances, and creation of derivative works for the composition of “Back n Forth.” The Complaint asserted a claim for declaratory relief that (a) Plaintiffs are co-writers of the composition “Smile (Living My Best Life)”, (b) Plaintiffs are entitled to co-writer credit for “Smile (Living My Best Life)” and any subsequently released versions of the song, and (c) royalties for their interest in “Smile (Living My Best Life).” The Complaint also sought an accounting and a constructive against Defendants. The case was assigned to Judge Grimberg.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on December 7, 2021 for failure to state a claim, alleging that Plaintiffs failed to plead the requisite requirements to be deemed a co-owner of a copyrighted work, including (a) that they participated in the creation of the song “Smile (Living My Best Life”) or (b) that Plaintiffs were intended to be co-owners of “Smile (Living My Best Life”). Defendants further argued that Plaintiffs’ accounting and constructive trust claims failed because they were derivative of Plaintiffs’ claim for declaratory relief. Plaintiffs opposed. In an order issued on May 25, 2022, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss. The Court agreed with Defendants that Plaintiffs’ attempt to allege authorship of “Smile (Living My Best Life)” by claiming co-ownership of “Back n Forth” is legally insufficient and that Plaintiffs’ accounting and constructive trust claims were derivative. First, the Court found that, even taking Plaintiffs’ allegation that they are co-owners of the song “Back n Forth” as true, that, as a matter of law, would not automatically make them joint authors of the derivative work “Smile (Living My Best Life).” Instead, whether the author of an underlying work is also the author of a derivative work is a question of fact. While Plaintiffs adequately plead that they were joint authors of “Back n Forth,” they failed to adequately allege or plead facts to support that each of the co-authors of “Back n Forth” were intended to be joint owners of “Smile (Living My Best Life).” Second, the Court found that Plaintiffs’ second and third claims for relief were “based on the premise that Plaintiffs are co-authors of “Smile (Living My Best Life).” Because Plaintiffs did not sufficiently allege the necessary facts to demonstrate that they were co-owners of “Smile (Living My Best Life),” they were not entitled to an accounting or a constructive trust as a matter of law. The Court further noted that, to the extent Plaintiffs’ claims for an accounting and constructive trust were based on alleged exploitation of “Back n Forth” into the derivative song “Smile (Living My Best Life),” such claims do not arise under the Copyright Act and must be asserted in state court.
Categories: Before 2017