Murphy v. Lazarev

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 10-17-2014
  • Case #: 14-5028
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 19951
  • Westlaw Citation: 2014 WL 5293681
  • Full Text Opinion

A copyright owner who grants an exclusive or nonexclusive license to use his copyrighted material waives his right to sue the licensee for copyright infringement.

Opinion (JULIA SMITH GIBBONS): Plaintiffs Taryn Murphy and Chris Landon (“Murphy”/“Landon”) are citizens of the United States and co-authors of the song Almost Sorry. Defendant Sergey Lazarev (“Lazarev”) is a Russian pop artist. In 2006, Murphy and Landon pitched the song to Lazarev’s manager. Murphy and Landon then entered into a sub-publisher’s agreement with a Moscow-based law firm, Levant & Partners, and into two licensing agreements with a Moscow-based record label, Style Records (“Style”). Almost Sorry and its Russian version, Zachem Pridumali Lyubov, did well. While Murphy and Landon received royalties, the royalties were less than expected. Murphy and Landon brought suit in federal district court against Lazarev for breach of contract and copyright infringement. The district court granted summary judgment to Lazarev. In the present case, Murphy and Landon reasserted their argument that Lazarev infringed their copyright to Almost Sorry. Plaintiffs alleged that Lazarev lacked a valid license to use their work before February 2008, when they expressly entered into a license agreement with Style. Further, plaintiffs renewed their contention that Lazarev’s sub-license expired in 2009 and, therefore, any use of Almost Sorry and Zachem Pridumali Lyubov from 2009 to present was without a valid sublicense and constituted infringement. Under U.S. copyright law, anyone who is authorized by the copyright owner to use the copyrighted work in a way specified in the statute is not an infringer of the copyright with respect to such use. A copyright owner who grants an exclusive or nonexclusive license to use his copyrighted material waives his right to sue the licensee for copyright infringement. A non-exclusive license may be granted orally, or may be implied from conduct. The key to finding an implied license is in the intent of the copyright holder. In the present case, the court concluded that the second licensing agreement, in combination with the producer's agreement, endowed Lazarev with a sublicense to use Almost Sorry, and thus, Lazarev did not infringe. Further the court rejected Murphy and Landon’s argument that Lazarev infringed their copyright before 2008 because they intended to authorize Lazarev to use the work in late 2006 and early 2007. Ultimately, the appellate court AFFIRMED the district court’s judgment.

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