Bensen on Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. WB Music Corp.

Bensen on Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. WB Music Corp.


In Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. WB Music Corp., the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for defendant Universal-MCA Music Publishing, Inc. in Bridgeport's copyright infringement suit. In the lawsuit, Bridgeport alleged that Universal committed contributory infringement of Bridgeport’s copyright by licensing an infringing work to a third party. Analyzing the case, Eric E. Bensen writes:  
 
     The P-Funk All Stars composed Pumpin’ It Up and in 1983, released it on an album entitled, “Urban Dancefloor Guerillas.” Bridgeport Music, Inc. (“Bridgeport”) owned one hundred percent of the interest in that composition. Some time later, Calvin Broadus (a.k.a. “Snoop Dogg”), Priest Joseph Brooks and Lenton Hutton composed Change Gone Come. Allegedly, lyrics from Pumpin’ It Up were interpolated in Change Gone Come.
 
     On January 31, 2000, Universal-MCA Music Publishing, Inc. (“Universal”) entered into an “Exclusive Songwriter & Co-Publishing Agreement” (the “Agreement”) with Hutton, who owned fifty percent of Change Gone Come, under which Universal acquired fifty percent of Hutton’s interest, i.e., twenty five percent ownership of the entire song, and the right to use the composition. The Agreement also gave Universal the exclusive right to administer and grant rights in the composition. The other writers owned the remainder of the copyright in Change Gone Come.
 
     In October of 2000, D-3 Albums released, “Dead Man Walkin,” which contained a recording of Change Gone Come. Earlier, in May 1999, Soul Town, another record company, released, “Well Connected,” which also contained a recording of Change Gone Come. Universal did not manufacture, distribute or sell either album. Moreover, it denied granting any licenses authorizing the use of Change Gone Come on those albums. However, it did receive a small amount of royalties (just over $600) for Change Gone Come, although there was no evidence that those royalties came from sales of “Dead Man Walkin” or “Well Connected”.
 
In Bridgeport’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Universal and others for use of Pumpin’ It Up lyrics in Change Gone Come, the Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Universal. Mr. Bensen writes:
 
     In the [appellate] court’s view, the affidavit submitted by Universal to the effect that it had granted no licenses for Change Gone Come put the burden on Bridgeport to come forward with evidence connecting Universal to the distribution and sale of the "Well Connected" and "Dead Man Walkin" albums. As the court explained, neither the ownership interest in the song combined with the infringement nor the receipt of royalties for the song by Universal permitted an inference that a license had been granted.