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Shadrach Winstead v. Curtis Jackson

September 20, 2011

SHADRACH WINSTEAD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CURTIS JACKSON, AKA, "50 CENT," INTERSCOPE RECORDS, INC., UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, INC., G- UNIT RECORDS, SHADY RECORDS, AFTERMATH ENTERTAINMENT, POLYDOR LTD., JOHN DOES 1-10 : (INDIVIDUALS WHOSE IDENTITIES ARE AS OF YET UNKNOWN) AND ABC CORPORATIONS 1- 100 (HERETOFORE UNIDENTIFIED CORPORATIONS, PARTNERSHIPS, AND/OR BUSINESS ENTITIES), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion by Defendants Curtis Jackson; Interscope Records; UMG Recordings, Inc.; G-Unit Records, LLC; Shady Records; Aftermath Records; and Polydor Ltd. (collectively, "Defendants") to dismiss the Amended Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [docket entry 19]. Plaintiff Shadrach Winstead ("Plaintiff") has opposed the motion. This Court heard oral argument on these motions on September 14, 2011. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

In this copyright infringement action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' movie (the "Film") and companion album (the "Album"), both entitled Before I Self Destruct, infringe upon Plaintiff's copyright in his book, The Preachers Son - But the Streets Turned Me Into a Gangster (the "Book").

Plaintiff is the author and sole owner of the copyright for the Book. From 2007 to 2008, Plaintiff dictated his autobiography onto electrostatic tapes, which he provided to Mary Gregory ("Gregory"), who in turn transcribed the tapes into written product. According to Plaintiff, prior to the Book's publication, Gregory either released the Book to Defendants, or to individuals who provided the Book to Defendants. Plaintiff then alleges that Defendants infringed upon the copyright of the Book by publishing and selling the Movie and the Album, both of which Plaintiff contends derive their content from the Book.

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims of direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement, as well as statutory and common law unfair competition, conversion/misappropriation, and unjust enrichment. Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In addition, Defendant Polydor Ltd. ("Polydor") seeks to dismiss the Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2).*fn1

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds that plaintiff's claims have facial plausibility. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). This means that the Complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, assuming the factual allegations are true. Id. at 1965; Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). The Supreme Court has made clear that "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.").

In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court may consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon those documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196. The issue before the Court "is not whether plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence in support of the claims." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

B. Discussion

1. Copyright Infringement "To establish a claim of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must establish: (1) ownership of a valid copyright; and (2) unauthorized copying of original elements of the plaintiff's work." Dun & Bradstreet Software Servs. v. Grace Consulting, Inc., 307 F.3d 197, 206 (3d Cir. 2002). In the instant case, the ownership of the copyrighted property is undisputed, as is its validity. In addition, for the purposes of this motion, Defendants concede that they had access to the copyrighted work and that there is substantial similarity between the works to support an inference of unlawful copying.*fn2 (Defs.' Rep. Br. 4, July 25, 2011.) However, not all copying amounts to copyright infringement. To give rise to copyright infringement, a court must determine "whether a 'lay-observer' would believe that the copying was of protectible aspects of the copyrighted work." Dam Things From Denmark v. Russ Berrie & Co., Inc., 290 F.3d 548, 562 (3d Cir. 2002). This test has been described as whether "the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard their aesthetic appeal as the same." Id.

In his opposition, Plaintiff avers that the Film duplicates the generalized theme and story of the Book and amounts to actionable copying. However, general plot ideas and themes lie in the public domain and are not protected by copyright law. Daley v. Granada US Productions, No. 02-2629, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3133 at *4 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 29, 2003). In addition, all situations and incidents which flow naturally from a basic plot premise, known as scenes a faire, are not entitled to copyright protection. Whelan Assocs. Inc. V. Jaslow Dental Lab., Inc., 797 F.2d 1222, 1236 (3d Cir. 1986); Pino v. Viacom, Inc., No. 07-3313, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24453 at *12 (D.N.J. Mar. 4, 2008) (finding elements common to both works - including the presence of hosts who provide witty commentary on the contestants and competition and introductory sequences that feature highlights of sporting events and sounds associated with various sports - to be scenes a faire that flow from the idea of a sports-themed reality show that pits amateurs against professional athletes); Daley, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3133 at *5 (holding archery tournaments, sword fighting, Nottingham Castle, Sherwood Forest, and ...


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