Oyewole v. Ora et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: Kobalt Music's, Downtown Music's, and the B.I.G. and Rita Ora Defendants' motions to dismiss are granted. Accordingly, the claims against Kobalt Music, Downtown Music, Roe Nation LLC, Jobete Mus ic Co., Inc., Notorious B.I.G. LLC, Universal Music Corp., Songs of Universal, Inc., Andrew Harr, Jermaine Jackson, Trac-N-Field Entertainment LLC, Andre Davidson, Sean Davidson, Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, Inc., and Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC are dismissed. In addition, because they have not yet been served, the claims against Kelly Sheehan, Berry Gordy, Jr., Osten Harvey, Jr., Bee Moe Easy Music, Emi Music Publishing, Justin Combs Company, and Stone Diamond Music Corp. are also dismissed. According to the docket, Defendants Rita Ora and Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr. have each been served, see Dkt. Nos. 14 & 15, but they have not appeared or filed any documents in this case. Within 14 days of the date of this Orde r, Oyewole shall either request an entry of default or dismiss the claims against the two remaining Defendants. Sean Davidson (Individually), Downtown Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing, Berry Gordy, Jr, Andrew Harr (Individually), Ost en Harvey, Jr, Jermaine Jackson (Individually), Jobete Music, Jobete Music Co., Inc., Justin Combs Company, Kobalt Music Publishing LTD, Notorious B.I.G. Estate, Notorious B.I.G. LLC, Roc Nation, Roc Nation LLC, Kelly Sheehan (Individually), Songs of Universal, Inc., Sony/ATV Music, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Stone Diamond Music Corp.,, Trac-N-Field Entertainment, LLC, Universal Music Corp., Universal Music Publishing Group, Universal Records, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.,, Bee Moe Easy Music and Andre Davidson (Individually) terminated. (Signed by Judge Alison J. Nathan on 3/7/2018) (mro)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
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OPINION & ORDER
Rita Ora, et al.,
ALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge:
Plaintiff Abiodun Oyewole alleges copyright infringement by Defendants. Defendants
Kobalt Music Ltd. ("Kobalt Music)" and Downtown Music Publishing LLC ("Downtown
Music") move to dismiss for insufficient process and insufficient service of process. Twelve of
the other Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons
that follow, the motions are granted.
a. The Original Work: "When the Revolution Comes"
Oyewole is a founding member of the spoken-word group The Last Poets. In that role,
Oyewole created the song "When the Revolution Comes" in 1968. Dkt. No. 91 (FAC) at iii! 1-4.
The song, a poem warning of a coming revolution when "guns and rifles will be taking the place
of poems and essays," has a back track that consists of a drum beat and chants. Dkt No. 73, Ex.
G (Revolution Audio); Dkt. No. 73, Ex. J (Revolution Lyrics). The revolution that The Last
Poets describe has clear racial dimensions. When the revolution comes, the Poets predict,
"Black cultural centers will [be] forts supplying the revolutionaries with food and arms," and
"White death will froth the walls of museums and churches breaking the lies that enslaved our
mothers." Revolution Lyrics. At the end of the song, the instrumental backing stops, and
together the performers chant,
When the revolution comes afros gone be trying to straighten their heads and straightened
heads gone be tryin' to wear afros
When the revolution comes
When the revolution comes
When the revolution comes
But until then you know and I know n*****s will party and bullshit and party and
bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party ...
Some might even die before the revolution comes.
Revolution Lyrics (ellipsis in original). According to Oyewole, the "sole purpose" of the lyrics
is to "challenge and encourage people to NOT waste time with 'party and bullshit,' but to
move towards success." FAC
Oyewole contends that he is the owner of copyright EU 188915 for the musical
composition of"When the Revolution Comes." FAC
2. However, the application for
registration of copyright EU 188915 lists Douglas Music Corporation as the copyright claimant,
though it lists "Abiodun Oyewole c/o Douglas Music Corp." as the author. Dkt. No. 73, Ex. D
(EU 188915 Application). According to Oyewole, "Douglas Music Corporation's interest in the
work of Abiodun Oyewole ceased in 1968 and all rights reverted to [Oyewole]." FAC
Oyewole also states that he filed a "Notice of Copyright Use" for "When the Revolution
Comes," and that in 1996, he registered copyrights for a compact disk recording of "When the
Revolution Comes" and for a book that contained the lyrics of "When the Revolution Comes."
b. The Secondary Works: "Party and Bullshit" and "Party"
In 1993, Christopher Wallace, better known as "The Notorious B.I.G." or "Biggie
Smalls," released the song "Party and Bullshit." FAC
12-13. The song celebrates
Wallace's hip hop lifestyle. It begins with Wallace rapping, "I was a terror since the public
school era I Bathroom passes, cuttin' classes, squeezing asses I Smoking blunts was a daily
routine I Since thirteen, a chubby n***a on the scene." Dkt. No. 73, Ex. K (B.l.G. Lyrics). The
song continues, "Honeys want to chat I But all we wanna know is 'Where the party at?,' I And
can I bring my gat?" before eventually leading into the chorus: "Dumbing out, just me and my
crew I Cause all we want to do is ... I Party ... and bullshit, and ... " B.I.G. Lyrics (ellipses in
original). The chorus repeats the phrase "party ... and bullshit, and ... " nine times. B.l.G. Lyrics.
In 2012, Rita Ora released the pop song "How We Do (Party)," which begins, "And party
and bullshit I And party and bullshit I And party and bullshit I And party, and party." Dkt. No.
62, Ex. F (Ora Lyrics). The song begins with Ora waking up and asking, "What went on last
night?" Ora Lyrics. She then sings to her partner, "You look so sweet while you're dreaming
(yeah) I Holding your bottle of Tanqueray (yeah) I It isn't even the weekend I Baby, that's how I
know you're the one for me." Ora Lyrics. Later, Ora further describes her relationship:
'Cause when the sun sets baby
On the avenue
I get that drunk sex feeling
Yeah, when I'm with you
So put your arms around me, baby
We're tearing up the town
'Cause that's just how we do
We got that sweet, hot loving
Dancing in the dark
Out in the streets we' re running
Shut down every bar
So put your arms around me, baby
We're tearing up the town
'Cause that's just how we do.
Ora Lyrics. The song repeats the lines, "I wanna party and bullshit I And party and bullshit I
And pmiy and bullshit I And party, and party" several times throughout the song. Ora Lyrics.
According to Oyewole, the use of the phrase "party and bullshit" in "Party and Bullshit"
and in "Party" was intended to "contraven[e]" the "original purpose" of the phrase as used in
"When the Revolution Comes," which was to discourage people from partaking in "party and
39. Oyewole did not give Defendants permission to use the words "party
and bullshit,'' and, given that Defendants intended to contravene the words' original purpose,
they would not have received Oyewole's permission had they sought it. FAC
c. The Instant Litigation
On March 14, 2016, Oyewole filed suit against Defendants alleging that "Paiiy and
Bullshit" and "Paiiy" infringe on Oyewole's copyright for "When the Revolution Comes." See
Dkt. No. 1. In response to several motions to dismiss, Oyewole filed an amended complaint on
September 1, 2016. FAC.
Defendants are individuals and entities who performed, composed, produced, published,
or distributed "Party and Bullshit" or "Party." 1 Oyewole claims that Defendants "publish[ed]
and distribute[ d]" the "crescendo, hook, text, lyrics and sound" of "When the Revolution
Comes" without authorization to do so, that they used and sampled Oyewole's "sound hook and
lyrics,'' and that they "wrongfully appropriated and exploited the punch line, performance, lyrics,
poem, rhythmic line, and text." FAC
35, 37, 42, 44. Specifically, Oyewole contends that
"Party and Bullshit" samples "When the Revolution Comes" and remixes the refrain "party and
bullshit" without authorization, 2 FAC at~ 13, and that "Party" "borrow[s] the refrain, punch line,
crescendo, and text hook 'Party and Bullshit' coined by" Oyewole in "When the Revolution
Comes,'' FAC at ~ 19. Oyewole seeks to prevent any further infringement of the "copyrighted
Oyewole also brought suit against Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr. and Marshall Mathers for their
2014 song "Calm Down." See FAC at~ 32. Oyewole later voluntarily dismissed the claims
against Mathers. Dkt. No. 113. Any remaining allegations about "Calm Down" are not the
subject of the present motions.
Although Oyewole initially "expressed his intentions" to stop Wallace's alleged infringement,
when Wallace died, Oyewole "did not expect further infringement and, therefore, had no reason
to hassle Wallace's widow or mother." FAC at~ 17.
coined hook rap phrase 'Party and Bullshit' by Defendants." FAC
Oyewole includes four counts in his amended complaint: (1) a claim for copyright
infringement and declaratory relief; (2) a request for the creation of a constructive trust to
prevent unjust enrichment by Defendants from their unauthorized use of Oyewole's copyrights;
(3) a demand for an accounting of the sales and distribution of Defendants' unauthorized
recordings; and (4) a request for injunctive relief. FAC
Defendants Kobalt Music and Downtown Music each filed motions to dismiss for
insufficient process or insufficient service of process. Dkt. Nos. 45 & 56. Roe Nation LLC has
moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, Dkt. No. 60, as have Jobete Music Co., Inc.,
Notorious B.I.G. LLC, Universal Music Corp., and Songs of Universal, Inc., Dkt. No. 72.
Defendants Andrew Harr, Jermaine Jackson, Trac-N-Field Entertainment LLC, Andre Davidson,
Sean Davidson, Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, Inc., and Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
joined the motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Dkt. Nos. 76 & 77. Defendants Roe
Nation LLC and those who have joined Roe Nation's motion to dismiss are referred to herein as
the "Rita Ora" Defendants; Jobete Music Co., Inc., Notorious B.I.G. LLC, Universal Music
Corp., and Songs of Universal, Inc. and those who have joined their motion to dismiss are
referred to as the "B.I.G. Defendants."
The Court turns first to Kobalt Music's and Downtown Music's motions.
MOTIONS TO DISMISS FOR INSUFFICIENT PROCESS OR INSUFFICIENT
SERVICE OF PROCESS
On August 15, 2016, Kobalt Music filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction due
to insufficient process and insufficient service of process. Dkt. No. 45. On August 17, 2016,
Downtown Music filed a similar motion. Dkt. No. 56. For the reasons below, the Court grants
a. Procedural Background
On March 14, 2016, Oyewole filed his original complaint. Dkt. No. 1. By June 20,
2016, more than 90 days after the filing of the complaint, Oyewole had not provided evidence
that he had served any of the defendants. See Dkt. No. 4. The Court thus required Oyewole to
serve the defendants and file proof of service no later than July 11, 2016. Dkt. No. 4. The Court
warned Oyewole that the failure to serve defendants on or before July 11, 2016, would result in
dismissal of the action. Dkt. No. 4.
In a letter dated July 13, 2016, Oyewole informed the Court that due to a
miscommunication, the process server had delayed service, but the letter stated that as many
defendants as possible were served on or before July 11, 2016. Dkt. No. 21. Oyewole warned,
though, that there might be a delay in filing proof of service for some defendants. Dkt. No. 21.
On July 15, 2016, the Court extended the deadline to file proof of service to July 22, 2016, and
stated that "[n]o additional extensions [would] be granted." Dkt. No. 22.
On July 11, 2016, Oyewole filed purported proofs of service on, inter alia, Kobalt Music,
Dkt. No. 7, and Downtown Music, Dkt. No. 10.
The proof of service on Kobalt Music consists of an affidavit in which the server swears
that he served Zach Ayer at 220 West 42nd Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10036. Dkt. No.
7. The affidavit states that Ayer "is a member of the legal department at Kobalt Music,
authorized to accept service on behalf of Kobalt Music." Dkt. No. 7.
The proof of service on Downtown Music consists of an affidavit in which the sever
swears that he served Molly Martin on July 8, 2016. Dkt. No. 10. The affidavit indicates that
Martin is designated by law to accept service on behalf of Downtown Music. Dkt. No. 10.
Kobalt Music and Downtown Music have moved to dismiss the claims against them
under Rules l 2(b )( 4) and (5) for insufficient process and/or insufficient service of process. See
Dkt. Nos. 45 & 56.
Kobalt Music and Downtown Music argue that the claims should be dismissed under
Rule l 2(b )( 5) because they were never actually served. According to Kobalt Music, Zach Ayer
worked at Kobalt Music Publishing America, Inc., which is a different entity from Kobalt Music
Publishing Ltd., the defendant in this action. Dkt. No. 49 (Kobalt Memo) at 3-4; see also Dkt.
No. 47 (Arnay Dec.)
2 ("The office located at 220 West 42nd Street, 11th Floor, New York,
New York is the place of business ofKobalt Music Publishing America, Inc.," not of Defendant
Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., "an English entity which does not maintain an office in the City of
New York."). Kobalt Music asserts that, in any event, Ayer had no managerial or supervisory
authority and was not authorized to accept service of process for either company. Kobalt Memo
at 3-4; see also Dkt. No. 46 (Ayer Dec.)
2, 4 (Ayer stating that (1) he never told the process
server that he was authorized to accept service on behalf of Kobalt Music, and (2) he is not in
fact authorized to accept service on behalf of Kobalt Music); Arnay Dec. at~~ 3-4 (General
Counsel of Kobalt Music Publishing America, Inc. stating that Ayer has never been authorized to
accept service on behalf of Kobalt Music). Similarly, Downtown Music states that Molly Martin
was working as a receptionist at the time that service was allegedly effectuated, that she is not a
member of Downtown Music's legal department, and that she has never been authorized to
accept service on behalf of Downtown Music. Dkt No. 59 (Downtown Memo) at 3-5; Dkt. No.
58 (Bergman Dec.) at~~ 2-4. Martin has submitted a declaration to the same effect, and she
swears that she never told the process server that she was authorized to accept service on behalf
of Downtown Music. Dkt. No. 57 (Martin Dec.) at~~ 2-4.
Both defendants also argue that the claims should be dismissed under Rule l 2(b )(4)
because the summons did not include all of the items required by Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 4. Kobalt Memo at 2; Downtown Memo at 2. Specifically, the defendants assert that
the summons did not contain the name of the court, list all of the parties, state the name and
address of the plaintiffs attorney, contain a signature from clerk of the court, or bear the court's
seal. Kobalt Memo at 2; Downtown Memo at 2.
Because the Court concludes that service on Ayer and Martin did not constitute sufficient
service of process on Kobalt Music or Downtown Music, it does not consider the arguments that
the process was insufficient.
In deciding a Rule 12(b)(5) motion, a court must look to Rule 4, which governs the
content, issuance, and service of a summons. DeLuca v. Access!T Grp., Inc., 695 F. Supp. 2d 54,
64 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 provides that service of process on a
corporation may be completed "by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an
officer, a managing or general agent, or any other agent authorized by appointment or by law to
receive service of process." Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(h)(l)(B). Alternatively, a corporation may be
served in the same manner allowed by the state in which the district court is located or service is
made-here, New York. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(l), (h)(l)(A).
Under New York law, a corporation may be served through an "officer, director,
managing or general agent, or cashier or assistant cashier or ... any other agent authorized by
appointment or by law to receive service." N.Y. C.P.L.R. 31 l(a)(l). Additionally, service may
be made on the secretary of state as agent of a corporation. See id.; N.Y. Bus. Corp. Law§ 306.
New York law also provides that service on a limited liability company may be effectuated by
serving a member of the company, if the company is member-managed; a manager of the
company, if the company is manager-managed; an agent authorized by appointment to receive
process; or someone designated by the company to receive process. N.Y. C.P.L.R. 311-a(a).
When a defendant moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) for insufficient service of
process, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving adequate service. Mende v. Milestone Tech.,
Inc., 269 F. Supp. 2d 246, 251 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).
Kobalt Music has provided sworn declarations stating that Zach Ayer was not authorized
to accept service on behalf of Kobalt Music and never told the process server that he was. Ayer
2, 4; Arnay Dec.
3-4. Indeed, in their declarations, Ayer and the General
Counsel of Kobalt Music Publishing America, Inc. state that Ayer did not work for-and had no
affiliation with-Kobalt Music at all. Ayer Dec. at~ 4; Arnay Dec. at~ 4. Oyewole has not
provided any evidence to rebut those statements. Accordingly, Oyewole has not shown that he
effected sufficient service of process on Kobalt Music.
Likewise, Downtown Music has provided evidence that (1) Molly Martin never told the
process server that she was authorized to accept service on behalf of Downtown Music, and (2)
Martin is not an officer or director of Downtown Music, has no managerial or supervisory
authority, and has never been authorized to accept service on behalf of Downtown Music.
Martin Dec. at~~ 2-3; Bergman Dec. at~~ 2-3. In response, Oyewole suggests that Martin was
in fact authorized to accept service, or at least indicated to the process server that she was. Dkt.
No. 107 at~~ 7-8. However, Oyewole has offered no evidence to support this claim. 3 Oyewole
Oyewole contends that Martin was actually served twice and argues that it is "quite difficult to
believe" that she told two separate process servers that she was not authorized to accept service.
Dkt. No. 107 at~ 7; see also Dkt. No. 107, Ex. B (process server swearing that Martin was also
served on July 11, 2016). However, Oyewole did not electronically file proof of service of
process for the alleged second service on or before July 22, 2016, as the Court required. In any
event, even if the Court considers the second service, Oyewole has not shown that Martin was
authorized-or indicated that she was authorized-to accept service on behalf of Downtown
has thus failed to demonstrate that service of process on Downtown Music was sufficient.
In response to Kobalt Music's and Downtown Music's motions, Oyewole emphasizes
that he had difficulty with the service company he hired, that he should not be penalized for their
mistakes, and that the Court should allow him to perfect service, if necessary. 4 See Dkt. No. 80
(Opp. to Kobalt) at 5-8.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), a court shall extend the time to serve a
defendant if good cause is shown, and a court may do so in the absence of good cause. A "delay
in service resulting from the mere inadvertence, neglect, or mistake of a litigant's attorney does
not constitute good cause." George v. Prof'l Disposables Int 'l, Inc., 221 F. Supp. 3d 428, 433
(S.D.N.Y. 2016) (quotingAIG Managed Mkt. Neutral Fundv. Askin Capital Mgmt., L.P., 197
F.R.D. 104, 108 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)). When deciding whether to grant extensions ohime in the
absence of good cause, courts consider "the relative prejudice to the parties ... and whether
there is a justifiable excuse for the failure properly to serve." Id. (quoting Mares v. United
States, 627 F. App'x 21, 23 (2d Cir. 2015)).
Here, good cause for Oyewole's failure to serve Kobalt Music and Downtown Music
does not exist. Although Oyewole complains of his process server's negligence, Opp. to Kobalt
at 6, he has not demonstrated that he actively monitored the server's performance. Indeed,
Oyewole submitted a letter dated July 13, 2016, stating that Oyewole's counsel contacted the
process service company afier the Court issued its June 20, 2016 Order and only at that point
"ascertain[ed] the status of service." Dkt. No. 21.
Music. Accordingly, Oyewole has failed to meet his burden to show adequate service.
In response to Downtown Music's motion to dismiss, Oyewole submitted a declaration from
his counsel, see Dkt. No. 107, but no opposition brief. To the extent that arguments in his brief
in opposition to Kobalt Music's motion, see Dkt. No. 80, apply in equal force to Downtown
Music's motion, the Court considers them for both motions.
In addition, the Court declines to grant a discretionary extension of the time period to
serve Kobalt Music and Downtown Music. Oyewole failed to serve any defendants within the
time period required by Rule 4(m) and then, when given another opportunity to effect service,
again failed to timely serve Kobalt Music and Downtown Music. When the Court extended the
deadline for service, the Court cautioned Oyewole that failure to serve Defendants in that time
period would result in dismissal. Dkt. No. 4. And when the Court gave Oyewole an additional
11 days to file proofs of service, it made clear that no further extensions would be granted. Dkt.
No. 22. Accordingly, the Court finds it appropriate to dismiss the claims against Kobalt Music
and Downtown Music as a result of Oyewole's failure to effect sufficient service of process.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Defendants Kelly Sheehan, Berry Gordy, Jr.,
Osten Harvey, Jr., Bee Moe Easy Music, EMI Music Publishing, Justin Combs Company, or
Stone Diamond Music Corp. have yet been served. For the same reasons, the Court declines to
provide Oyewole more time to serve those defendants and thus also dismisses the claims against
MOTIONS TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM
The B.I.G. and Rita Ora Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6).
a. 12(b)(6) Standard
When deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts and draws all
reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Kassner v. 2nd
Ave. Delicatessen, Inc., 496 F.3d 229, 237 (2d Cir.2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, the
plaintiffs pleading must contain allegations that, accepted as true, "state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell At!. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider the allegations of the pleading
itself, as well as documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference. Halebian v. Berv,
644 F.3d 122, 130 n.7 (2d Cir. 2011); Chapman v. NY State Div.for Youth, 546 F.3d 230, 234
(2d Cir.2008). "If a document relied on in the complaint contradicts allegations in the complaint,
the document, not the allegations, control, and the court need not accept the allegations in the
complaint as true." Poindexter v. EM! Record Grp. Inc., No. 11 Civ. 559(LTS)(JLC), 2012 WL
1027639, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2012) (citing Barnum v. Millbrook Care Ltd. P'ship, 850 F.
Supp. 1227, 1232-33 (S.D.N.Y. 1994)). "In copyright infringement actions, 'the works
themselves supersede and control contrary descriptions of them,' including 'any contrary
allegations, conclusions or descriptions of the works contained in the pleadings."' Peter F.
Gaito Architecture, LLC v. Simone Dev. Corp., 602 F .3d 57, 64 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal citation
omitted) (quoting Walker v. Time Life Films, Inc., 784 F .2d 44, 52 (2d Cir. 1986), and 3-12
Melville B. Nimmer and David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright§ 14-0l[B] (2012) § 12.10).
b. Count I: Copyright Infringement
"To establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must demonstrate
'(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are
original."' Warner Bros. Entm't, Inc. v. RDR Books, 575 F. Supp. 2d 513, 533 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)
(quoting Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991)). To satisfy the
second element, a plaintiff must show that: "(l) the defendant has actually copied the plaintiffs
work; and (2) the copying is illegal because a substantial similarity exists between the
defendant's work and the protectible elements of plaintiffs." Hamil Am., Inc. v. GFI, 193 F.3d
92, 99 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Knitwaves, Inc. v. Lollytogs Ltd. (Inc.), 71F.3d996, 1002 (2d Cir.
Defendants make several arguments why Oyewole's complaint should be dismissed for
failure to state a claim of copyright infringement. The Rita Ora Defendants primarily contend
that (1) no substantial similarity exists between "Party" and "When the Revolution Comes"; (2)
the phrase "party and bullshit" does not constitute a protectable expression; and (3) the use of
"party and bullshit" in "Party" constitutes fair use. See Dkt. No. 61 (Ora Memo) at 7-21.
Similarly, the B.I.G. Defendants assert that (1) Plaintiff lacks a valid ownership interest in the
musical composition or sound recording for "When the Revolution Comes"; (2) "party and
bullshit" is not a protectable expression; (3) "Party and Bullshit" and "When the Revolution
Comes" are not substantially similar; (4) "Party and Bullshit's" use of the phrase "party and
bullshit" constitutes fair use; and (5) the statute of limitations bars or partially bars Oyewole's
copyright infringement claim. See Dkt. No. 78 (B.I.G. Memo) at 6-21. They also contend that
counts two and three should be dismissed because Oyewole and the B.I.G. Defendants had no
confidential or fiduciary relationship, and that count four should be dismissed because it is a
remedy not a cause of action. B.I.G. Memo at 22-23.
The Court assumes arguendo that Oyewole has sufficiently alleged an ownership interest
in "When the Revolution Comes," that the phrase "party and bullshit" is a protectable
expression, and that the works at issue are substantially similar. The Court thus proceeds to
consider whether the fair use doctrine applies to Defendants' works.
Federal law provides that "the fair use of a copyrighted work ... for purposes such as
criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use),
scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." 17 U.S.C. § 107. In determining
whether the use of a work is fair, courts consider several factors, including(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial
nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work
as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
17 U.S.C. § 107. The "ultimate test of fair use ... is whether the copyright law's goal of
'promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts' ... would be better served by allowing the
use than by preventing it." Cariou v. Prince, 714 F.3d 694, 705 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Castle
Rock Entm 't, Inc. v. Carol Pub! 'g Grp., Inc., 150 F.3d 132, 141 (2d Cir. 1998)). The fair use
doctrine is intended to protect secondary works that "add value to the original," that use the
original work "as raw material, transformed in creation of new information, new aesthetics, new
insights and understandings." Castle Rock, 150 F.3d at 142.
The fair use doctrine is an affirmative defense and, accordingly, the party asserting it
bears the burden of proving it. Authors Guildv. Google, Inc., 804 F.3d 202, 213 (2d Cir. 2015).
1. First Factor: Purpose and Character of the Use
Pursuant to the first factor, courts consider whether the allegedly infringing work
"supersedes the objects of the original creation, or instead adds something new, with a further
purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or
message [,] ... in other words, whether and to what extent the new work is transformative."
Cariou, 714 F.3d at 705 (alterations in original) (quoting Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.,
510 U.S. 569, 579 (1994)). This factor is "[t]he heart of the fair use inquiry." Blanch v. Koons,
467 F.3d 244, 251 (2d Cir. 2006). Indeed, "the goal of copyright, to promote science and the
arts, is generally furthered by the creation oftransformative works." Campbell, 510 U.S. at 579.
In analyzing the transformative nature of the works at issue, courts "examine how the
works may 'reasonably be perceived."' Cariou, 714 F.3d at 707 (quoting Campbell, 510 U.S.
at 582). "[A] secondary work may constitute a fair use even if it serves some purpose other than
those (criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research) identified in the
preamble to the statute." Id. at 706. There is no requirement "that a work comment on the
original or its author in order to be considered transformative." Id. Instead, "the critical inquiry
is whether the new work uses the copyrighted material itself for a purpose, or imbues it with a
character, different from that for which it was created." TCA Television Corp. v. McCollum, 839
F.3d 168, 179 (2d Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 2175 (2017). Thus secondary works are
transformative when the original works are "serene and deliberately composed" black-and-white
photographs while the secondary works are "collages ... that incorporate color, feature distorted
human and other forms and settings," and are much larger than the originals, because the
secondary works "manifest an entirely different aesthetic" from the originals. Cariou, 714 F.3d
at 706. On the other hand, the Second Circuit has held that a play' s use of the copyrighted
"Who's on First" routine was not transformative when the defendant had argued that the
allegedly infringing work transformed the purpose of the routine from comedic to dramatic, but
the routine was unnecessary to serve the claimed dramatic purpose-advancing the plot of the
play. TCA Television Corp., 839 F.3d at 182. The court further explained that although the play
itself "convey[ ed] a dark critique of society," the play did not transform the routine "so that it
convey[ ed] that message." Id at 181.
As part of the first factor, courts also consider whether the allegedly infringing work has
a commercial or nonprofit educational purpose. A commercial purpose pushes towards a
conclusion that the work at issue did not use the original work fairly, but "Congress 'could not
have intended' a rule that commercial uses are presumptively unfair." Cariou, 714 F.3d at 708
(quoting Campbell, 510 U.S. at 584).
Here, both "Party and Bullshit" and "Party" transform the purpose of the phrase "party
and bullshit" from one of condemnation to one of glorification. Unlike the routine in TCA
Television Corp., the phrase "party and bullshit" is itself transformed; in neither secondary work
does it evince criticism or foreboding.
"When the Revolution Comes" is a political song that warns of an approaching violent
revolution. Revolution Lyrics. The Last Poets want their listeners to prepare for the revolution,
appreciate its gravity, and commit themselves to it; they explain that only things of substance
will survive the revolution. See Revolution Lyrics ("When the revolution comes/ Transit cops
will be crushed by the trains after losing their guns and blood will run through the streets of
Harlem drowning anything without substance"); ("The cost of revolution is 360 degrees
understand the cycle that never ends ... Speak not of revolution until you are willing to eat rats
to survive."). At the end of the song, the Poets criticize those who "will party and bullshit" until
the revolution comes, and they suggest that, as a result of the partying and bullshit, "[s]ome
might even die before the revolution comes." Revolution Lyrics. In "When the Revolution
Comes," therefore, the phrase "party and bullshit" is part of an admonishment, an expression of
disgust and disappointment in those who are not readying themselves for the revolution.
By contrast, "Party and Bullshit" embraces the "party and bullshit" culture, thereby
transforming "party and bullshit" from something shunned to something glorified. The song
begins with Wallace rapping, "I was a terror since the public school era I Bathroom passes,
cuttin' classes, squeezing asses I Smoking blunts was a daily routine I Since thirteen, a chubby
n***a on the scene." B.l.G. Lyrics. As the song goes on, it becomes clear that Wallace
continues to enjoy a dissolute lifestyle. For example, Wallace later raps, "Honeys want to chat I
But all we wanna know is 'Where the party at?' I And can I bring my gat?" B.I.G. Lyrics. He
continues, "Dumbing out, just me and my crew I Cause all we want to do is ... I Party ... and
bullshit." B.I.G. Lyrics (ellipses in original). In "Party and Bullshit," then, "party and bullshit"
is a desired activity, part of Wallace's hip hop lifestyle, which the song celebrates.
Likewise, "Party" exalts "party and bullshit" rather than condemning it. Ora sings with
joy about "party and bullshit." She explains that her partner is "the one for [her]" because s/he is
"[h]olding a bottle of Tanqueray" when "[i]t isn't even the weekend," and she sings about
"[s]hut[ting] down every bar" and "tearing up the town." Ora Lyrics. Ora cheerfully proclaims
that she wants to "party and bullshit." Ora Lyrics. Unlike "When the Revolution Comes,"
"Party" does not denounce "party and bullshit" but instead suggests that it is fun, lighthearted,
Moreover, in addition to the songs themselves, the complaint supports the conclusion that
"Party and Bullshit" and "Party" are transformative. Indeed, Oyewole acknowledges that the
B.I.G. and Rita Ora Defendants use the phrase "party and bullshit" "in contravention" of
Oyewole's original purpose, which was to "encourage[e] people to NOT waste time with 'party
and bullshit."' FAC
39. Thus even Oyewole recognizes that Defendants' songs change the
meaning and purpose of the phrase "party and bullshit."
A comparison of the works at issue, along with Oyewole's own statement regarding his
use of the phrase "party and bullshit," reveals that the B.I.G. and Rita Ora Defendants' works
transform "When the Revolution Comes," "imbu[ing] it with a character, different from that for
which it was created." TCA Television Corp., 839 F.3d at 180. Although "Party and Bullshit"
and "Party" clearly have a commercial purpose, that alone does not suggest that the B.I.G. and
Rita Ora Defendants unfairly used Oyewole's work. See Cariou, 714 F.3d at 708. Accordingly,
the first factor strongly supports a conclusion that "Party and Bullshit" and "Party" are protected
by the fair use doctrine.
2. Second Factor: Nature of the Copyrighted Work
The second factor, the nature of the copyrighted work, asks "( 1) whether the work is
expressive or creative, ... with a greater leeway being allowed to a claim of fair use where the
work is factual or informational, and (2) whether the work is published or unpublished, with the
scope for fair use involving unpublished works being considerably narrower." Blanch, 467 F.3d
at 256 (quoting 2 Howard B. Abrams, The Law of Copyright,§ 15:52 (2006)).
"When the Revolution Comes" is creative, which weighs against a determination that
Defendants' works constitute fair use, but it is also published, a fact that favors the B.I.G. and
Rita Ora Defendants. See Blanch, 467 F.3d at 256-57.
3. Third Factor: Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used
In analyzing the third factor, courts consider "whether the quantity and value of the
materials used are reasonable in relation to the purpose of the copying." Blanch, 467 F.3d at
257 (quoting Campbell, 510 U.S. at 586). Courts look to the quantity of materials used as well
as '"their quality and importance' to the original work." Cariou, 714 F.3d at 710 (quoting
Campbell, 510 U.S. at 587). "[T]he law does not require that the secondary artist may take no
more than is necessary." Id.
"Party and Bullshit" and "Party" each use one phrase from "When the Revolution
Comes." The Last Poets repeat the expression "party and bullshit" approximately four times at
the end of their song, but they do not use it anywhere else. Moreover, although the background
track's cutting out when the Last Poets chant "party and bullshit" adds a level of gravity and
importance to the phrase, the expression is not critically impo1iant to the song's message.
Instead, the song focuses on the upcoming revolution, describing what will happen and repeating
"when the revolution comes." The criticism of those who "party and bullshit" reinforces The
Last Poets' message that their listeners should prepare for and commit to the revolution, but it is
not essential to that message.
4. Fourth Factor: Effect of the Use on the Market for the Copyrighted Work
The concern animating the fourth factor "is not whether the secondary use suppresses or
even destroys the market for the original work or its potential derivatives, but whether the
secondary use usurps the market of the original work." Blanch, 467 F.3d at 258 (quoting NXIVM
Corp. v. Ross Inst., 364 F.3d 471, 481-82 (2d Cir. 2004)). "[A]n accused infringer has usurped
the market for copyrighted works, including the derivative market, where the infringer's target
audience and the nature of the infringing content is the same as the original." Cariou, 714 F.3d
at 709. Indeed, "[a] fair use must not excessively damage the market for the original by
providing the public with a substitute for that original work." Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust,
755 F.3d 87, 95 (2d Cir. 2014). "The more transformative the secondary use, the less likelihood
that the secondary use substitutes for the original." Castle Rock, 150 F.3d at 145.
Defendants' songs are unlikely to "usurp" the market for "When the Revolution Comes."
Because, as explained, the allegedly infringing works are different in character and purpose from
the original work, it is unlikely that Defendants' target audience and The Last Poets' audience
are the same. Even if they are, Defendants' works are significantly different from Oyewole's
and thus do not "provid[e] the public with a substitute for ['When the Revolution Comes']."
Authors Guild, Inc., 755 F.3d at 95.
On balance, the factors weigh in favor of a conclusion that "Party and Bullshit" and
"Party" are fair uses of "When the Revolution Cornes." Accordingly, the B.I.G. and Rita Ora
Defendants' motions to dismiss the copyright infringement claim are granted.
c. Counts II - IV
The remaining counts in the amended complaint rely on the theory that Defendants
infringed Oyewole's copyright: Oyewole seeks a constructive trust to "prevent unjust
enrichment by the Defendants for the unauthorized use of [Oyewole' s] copyrights," FAC at ii 49;
an accounting of Defendants' sales of their works to determine the amount owed to Oyewole,
FAC at iiii 51-55; and an injunction to prevent Defendants from "wrongfully rnisappropriat[ing]
and exert[ing] dominion and control over Plaintiffs interests in the income derived from 'When
the Revolution Cornes,"' FAC at ii 59.
Although styled as counts in the complaint, the remaining "counts" are in fact remedies
for the alleged copyright infringement. Because Oyewole has failed to state a claim of copyright
infringement against the B.I.G. and Rita Ora Defendants, he is not entitled to any remedy against
them on that basis. Accordingly, Oyewole's remaining claims against the B.I.G. and Rita Ora
Defendants necessarily also fail. 5
Kobalt Music's, Downtown Music's, and the B.I.G. and Rita Ora Defendants' motions to
dismiss are granted. Accordingly, the claims against Kobalt Music, Downtown Music, Roe
Nation LLC, Jobete Music Co., Inc., Notorious B.I.G. LLC, Universal Music Corp., Songs of
Universal, Inc., Andrew Harr, Jermaine Jackson, Trac-N-Field Entertainment LLC, Andre
Davidson, Sean Davidson, Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, Inc., and Sony/ATV Music
The Court also notes that Oyewole failed to oppose the B.I.G. Defendants' request to dismiss
Counts Two through Four. See Dkt. No. 123 (B.I.G. Reply) at 1 n.4.
Publishing LLC are dismissed. In addition, because they have not yet been served, the claims
against Kelly Sheehan, Berry Gordy, Jr., Osten Harvey, Jr., Bee Moe Easy Music, Emi Music
Publishing, Justin Combs Company, and Stone Diamond Music Corp. are also dismissed.
According to the docket, Defendants Rita Ora and Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr. have each been
served, see Dkt. Nos. 14 & 15, but they have not appeared or filed any documents in this case.
Within 14 days of the date of this Order, Oyewole shall either request an entry of default or
dismiss the claims against the two remaining Defendants.
United States District Judge