WILLIAM L. ROBERTS, II, a.k.a. Rick Ross, ANDREW HARR, et. al., Plaintiffs - Appellants,
STEFAN KENDAL GORDY, SKYLER AUSTEN GORDAY, et. al., Defendants - Appellees.
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:13-cv-24700-KMW
WILSON and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges, and TITUS, [*] District Judge.
L. Roberts II, Andrew Harr, and Jermaine Jackson
(collectively "Appellants"), who are artists in the
hip-hop industry, appeal the dismissal of their copyright
infringement case. On appeal, they argue that their copyright
registrations were improperly invalidated under 17 U.S.C.
§ 411 without a showing of scienter and that they made a
proper showing of copyright ownership. Appellees counter that
17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(1) does not require scienter for
nullification of a copyright registration and that a web of
transfer and licensing agreements reflect a murky disposition
of legal ownership. The Court need not reach a decision on
the ownership issue because the district court misapplied the
law by invalidating the copyright registrations. Accordingly,
the district court's dismissal order will be reversed and
remanded for further proceedings.
are the authors of the classic rap song,
Hustlin'. In the wake of the success of
Hustlin', Stefan Gordy and Skyler Gordy
(collectively p/k/a "LMFAO") authored a highly
successful dance song, Party Rock Anthem. Cashing in
on its popularity, Kia Motors used Party Rock Anthem
as the soundtrack for one of its now equally famous
dancing-hamsters commercials. Appellants, believing that this
song allegedly used their lyrics and music, filed a copyright
infringement suit against LMFAO, Kia, and all of the other
Appellees in this case. Although not part of Party Rock
Anthem's refrain, at issue in this litigation is a
phrase in its beat drop-"every day I'm
shufflin'"-which LMFAO argued below was parody/fair
use (an argument rejected by the district court and not
currently on review in this appeal).
Answers asserted a series of defenses, including
non-infringement, de minimus infringement, and parody/fair
use. Although their Answers acknowledged the existence of
multiple copyright registrations for Hustlin',
Appellees never sought to argue invalidity. This
legal strategy was confirmed at various stages of the
litigation. First, in opposition to another party's
attempt to intervene, Appellees stated, "This is not a
case . . . in which defendants are challenging the existence
or validity of a copyright. . . . [T]he only issue is whether
[defendants] engaged in unlawful copying." Defs.'
Opp'n., App. Doc. 177, at 17. Furthermore, Appellees
opposed the inclusion of a proposed jury instruction on
validity by stating, "This instruction is not necessary.
Defendants do not contend that the copyright in
Hustlin' is 'invalid.'" Joint
Proposed Jury Instruction 9.4, App. Doc. 372-1.
Appellees' urging to the contrary, the record clearly
indicates that the issue of the validity of the copyright
registrations was not raised by them, but rather by the
district court sua sponte. See, e.g., Ct. Order,
App. Doc. 399, at 5-7. And it was on the grounds of invalid
copyright registrations and failure to demonstrate
ownership that the district court dismissed this
case at summary judgment. See id. at 42.
Subsequently, Appellants timely appealed.
review the district court's "interpretation and
application of the law" in the grant or denial of
summary judgment de novo. Ziegler v. Martin Cnty. Sch.
Dist., 831 F.3d 1309, 1318 (11th Cir. 2016).
Furthermore, we also review de novo "[t]he sua sponte
dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim."
Brown v. Johnson, 387 F.3d 1344, 1347 (11th Cir.
this lawsuit commenced, three copyright registrations had
been filed and granted for Hustlin'. Each
contained errors, but it has never been contended that the
Appellants were not the true authors of the work. The first
copyright registration, Pau 3-024-979, incorrectly stated
that it was unpublished because promotional phonorecords of
the Hustlin' composition had been distributed to
local disc jockeys. The second copyright registration, PA
1-334-589, incorrectly stated that the creation date was 2006
(instead of 2005) and did not disclose that there was a prior
registration. The third copyright registration, PA 1-367-972,
suffered from the same errors-it incorrectly stated the
creation date and did not disclose either of the prior
applying 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(2), the district court asked
the Copyright Office to weigh in on "what effect, if
any, allegedly inaccurate information would have had on the
Copyright Office's issuance of certain copyright
registrations." See Resp. of the Register of
Copyrights, App. Doc. 383, at 1. The Copyright Office
responded that it "would have refused to issue a
registration for an unpublished work" had it known of
the publication/distribution information for the first
registration. See id. at 5. However, the Copyright
Office's response does not indicate whether it would have
permitted the first registration as a published
work. Additionally, the Copyright Office advised
that it "would have refused [the second]
registration" had it known of the incorrect creation
date. See id. Lastly, the Copyright Office stated
that it "would have refused [the third]
registration" had it known of the incorrect creation
date or the prior registration for a published work. See
district court then applied 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(1), and
concluded that the Appellants-as the authors-would have had
knowledge of these errors, and that the Copyright
Office's response indicated the materiality of these
inaccuracies. The district court rejected the argument that
§ 411(b) requires "an intent to defraud, " and
instead concluded that the plain text of the statute only
requires "knowledge that it was inaccurate."
See Ct. Order, App. Doc. 399, at 21; contra
Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. v. Toy Loft, Inc.,
684 F.2d 821, 828 (11th Cir. 1982); Donald Frederick
Evans & Assocs., Inc. v. Cont'l Homes, Inc., 785
F.2d 897, 904 (11th Cir. 1986); St. Luke's Cataract