Poindexter v. EMI Record Group, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 03-27-2012
  • Case #: 11 Civ. 559
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Swain, Judge.
  • Full Text Opinion

Only the owner of the copyright has standing to assert a claim for its infringement, and assignment of the right to sue to a non-owner is insufficient to confer standing.

Opinion (Swain): Robert Poindexter (“Poindexter”) sued EMI Record Group, Inc. (“EMI”), claiming that a song in EMI’s catalogue, “Washed Away,” infringed his copyrighted sound recording, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” (“Thin Line”), which he co-produced, and its underlying composition, which he co-wrote. In 1998, Poindexter signed an agreement with Atlantic Recording Corp., granting it the exclusive right to the worldwide copyright for the “Thin Line” recording, and naming Atlantic as the owner and author. In 2011, Poindexter executed a buyout/release agreement with Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., selling his undivided interest in the underlying composition of “Thin Line” in exchange for royalties, but not the sound recording. Poindexter believed the agreement also granted him the right to sue for infringement. In the early 1990s, an EMI rap group, Arrested Development, sampled the recording and composition of “Thin Line” in its song “Washed Away,” using a single, two-second note from “Thin Line” looped throughout the song. EMI moved to dismiss the infringement claims, claiming Poindexter lacked standing to sue and had failed to assert a claim upon which relief could be granted. Because Poindexter had transferred his ownership interests in the composition to other parties, the district court DISMISSED Poindexter’s infringement claim of the sound recording, and held that because any infringement of the composition was de minimis he could not assert a valid infringement claim of the underlying composition, assuming he retained some ownership interest therein.

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