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Copeland v. Bieber

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 18, 2015

DEVIN COPELAND, a/k/a De Rico; MAREIO OVERTON, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
JUSTIN BIEBER; USHER RAYMOND, IV, a/k/a Usher; HEATHER BRIGHT, individually, and d/b/a B-Rhaka Publishing; RAY ROMULUS, a/k/a Rayro, individually and d/b/a Please Enjoy the Music; JONATHAN YIP, individually and d/b/a Products of the Street; JEREMY REEVES, individually and d/b/a Sumphu; UNIVERSAL MUSIC CORPORATION; UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP; SONY/ATV MUSIC PUBLISHING, LLC; WB MUSIC CORPORATION; THE ISLAND DEF JAM MUSIC GROUP; STAGE THREE MUSIC (U.S.) INC.; STAGE THREE MUSIC, LLC; JONETTA PATTON, d/b/a J Pat Management, Defendants - Appellees

Argued March 24, 2015.

Page 485

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 486

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk. (2:13-cv-00246-AWA-TEM). Arenda L. Wright Allen, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Duncan Glover Byers, BYERS LAW GROUP, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellants.

Stephen Edward Noona, KAUFMAN & CANOLES, P.C., Norfolk, Virginia; Jonathan David Davis, JONATHAN D. DAVIS, P.C., New York, New York, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

Howard Weitzman, Jeremiah T. Reynolds, KINSELLA WEITZMAN ISER KUMP & ALDISERT, Santa Monica, California, for Justin Bieber.

Nathan Muyskens, Washington, D.C., Barry I. Slotnick, Cheng L. Chen, LOEB & LOEB LLP, New York, New York, for Heather Bright, d/b/a B-Rhaka Publishing, WB Music Corporation, and Sony/ATV Music Publishing, LLC.

Before WYNN, FLOYD, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges. Judge Harris wrote the opinion, in which Judge Wynn and Judge Floyd joined.

OPINION

Page 487

PAMELA HARRIS, Circuit Judge:

Musician Devin Copeland (" Copeland" ), together with his songwriting partner, appeals the dismissal of his copyright infringement claim against recording artists Justin Bieber and Usher Raymond IV. Copeland alleges that three recorded songs by the defendants, each titled " Somebody to Love," infringe upon his copyright over his own, earlier song of the same name. The district court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss on the ground that no reasonable jury could find Copeland's song and the defendants' songs sufficiently similar to give rise to liability for infringement. We disagree, and therefore vacate the district court's order and remand the case for further proceedings.

I.

A.

Because Copeland appeals from an order granting a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, we recount the facts as alleged by Copeland, accepting them as true for purposes of this appeal. See Jackson v. Lightsey, 775 F.3d 170, 173 (4th Cir. 2014).

Copeland is a Virginia-based R& B singer and songwriter who performs under the name " De Rico." In 2008, together with his songwriting partner Mareio Overton, Copeland began writing and recording songs to perform on his upcoming album, My Story II. Among them was " Somebody to Love," the song that is the subject matter of this case (the " Copeland song" ). Copeland registered a copyright for the My Story II songs, including " Somebody to Love," later that year.

In late 2009, Copeland entered into discussions with Sangreel Media (" Sangreel" ), a company that recruits artists for record labels including Island Records, Sony Music, and RCA Records. Sangreel was interested in promoting Copeland's music, and Copeland turned over copies of My Story II so that Sangreel could provide promotional copies to its clients. Among the figures to whom Sangreel presented Copeland's music was Usher Raymond IV, a world-famous recording artist who performs under the name " Usher."

According to Copeland's complaint, Usher liked what he heard. Usher's mother and manager, Jonetta Patton (" Patton" ), scheduled a conference call with Copeland, during which she informed Copeland that both she and Usher had listened to My Story II, and that they were interested in having Copeland re-record the album and join Usher on tour. Yet the plans never materialized, and that was the last Copeland heard from anyone in Usher's camp.

Within a few months of Copeland's phone conversation with Patton, however, Usher had recorded and posted on his YouTube channel a demo song also titled " Somebody to Love" (the " Usher demo song" ). Usher did not commercially release this song, but instead allegedly brought it to his protégé and fellow recording artist, Justin Bieber (" Bieber" ). Bieber recorded his own " Somebody to Love" (the " Bieber album song" ) and released it on his debut album, My World 2.0, in the spring ...


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