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Johnson v. UMG Recordings, Inc.

United States District Court for the Central District of California

October 23, 2019, Decided; October 23, 2019, Filed

Case No. 2:19-cv-02364-ODW (SSx)




Plaintiff Syl Johnson ("Johnson") brings several claims against Defendant UMG Recordings, Inc. ("UMG") involving copyright infringement. Plaintiff claims Defendant UMG reproduced, distributed, and licensed a sampled portion of Plaintiff's music. (See Compl. ¶¶1, ECF No. 1.)

Defendant moves to dismiss on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations; and (2) Defendant's alleged copying is not actionable. (See generally Mot. to Dismiss Compl. ("Mot."), ECF No. 14.)1

For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS, IN PART and DENIES, IN PART, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.


Syl Johnson, doing business as Twinight Records, Inc., produces, manufactures, [*2]  distributes, and sells sound recordings. (Compl. ¶411 1, 8.) In 1968, Plaintiff recorded vocals of himself in a track titled "I Feel An Urge" (the "Recording"). (Compl. In 1.) In the Recording, a segment contains Plaintiff's distinctive vocal "Ohh" followed by a fast-paced drum roll, instrumental guitar, high note on a saxophone, and Plaintiff singing "Yeah."2 (Compl. girli 1, 15.) In 1991, Defendant UMG reproduced, distributed, and licensed a portion of the Recording on various tracks titled "Know the Ledge," "Juice," and "Juice (Know the Ledge)." (Compl. In 1, 16.) Plaintiff alleges that the Recording "comprises twenty-five percent of these tracks." (Compl. ¶ 16.) Defendant allegedly used the tracks in theatrical and television movies, greatest hits compilations, music videos, video games, commercials, and third-party licenses all over the world. (Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff discovered that the Recording was sampled when Matthew Clifford, a former disc jockey, informed him that he "recognized Plaintiff's voice" on Defendant's recordings. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff had not authorized Defendant to reproduce, manufacture, distribute, or license a sample portion of the Recording. (Compl. ¶ 2.) [*3] 

Plaintiff has filed several actions based on these facts in several venues. For instance, he filed an action on May 4, 2015 in the Northern District of Illinois and another one on December 12, 2017 in the Middle District of Tennessee.3 (Compl. ¶ 18.) On March 28, 2019, Plaintiff filed the operative Complaint in the Central District of California alleging three claims for relief under: (1) Cal. Civ. Code § 980 et seq.; (2) Cal. Bus. & Prof Code § 17200 et seq.; and (3) Cal. Civ. Code § 3344. (See generally Compl.) On June 3, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss ("Motion"). (See Mot.)

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2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184455 *; Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P31,542; 2019 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 409094; 2019 WL 5420278

SYL JOHNSON, Plaintiff, v. UMG RECORDINGS, INC., Defendant.

Prior History: F.B.T. Prods., LLC v. Aftermath Records, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5981 (C.D. Cal., Jan. 20, 2009)


Recording, infringement, statute of limitations, accrued, motion to dismiss, de minimis, sampled, tolling, fair use, allegations, copying, copyright infringement, good faith, distributed, licensed, asserts, music