As key evidence vanishes, ‘Peas’ prevail

image by radioadams.com.ar

A U.S. district judge in Santa Ana has granted summary judgment for defendants Williams Adams Jr. and members of the Black Eyed Peas band, their producers, publishers and record company and against plaintiff-songwriter Bryan Pringle in a copyright infringement dispute.  The court ruled that the Peas’ 2009 song, I Gotta Feeling, did not infringe plaintiff’s 1998 tune, Take a Dive, nor his derivative work, Take a Drive (Dance Version). And the judge found that Pringle, though his attorneys were warned to preserve evidence potentially crucial to defending the case, later would claim these key materials had vanished and were unavailable.  The court said that an important basis for Pringle’s claim, an eight-bar guitar twang sequence in Take a Dive (Dance Version), lacked standing.  A previous post on iptrademarkattorney.com compares the two musical works in this suit; click to listen to audio clips and read the initial complaint.

In 1998, Pringle registered a CD, Dead Beat Club: 1998, containing an original of Take a Dive and other works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Then in November, 2010, he filed an infringement suit after the Peas released I Gotta Feeling.  He also sought registration from the U.S. Copyright Office for both the sound recording of Take a Dive (Dance Version) and the music of a guitar twang sequence. The sound recording was registered but officials denied registration to the music, saying it lacked original authorship.  The court said that because Pringle’s registration for the guitar twang sequence was invalid, he could not show an infringement by access or substantial similarity to protected expression.

More precisely, as reported on jdsupra.com:  The court also found that even if his evidence showed “some modicum of access” by the Peas to his material, plaintiff failed to show any evidence of substantial similarity in protected elements of Take a Drive and I Gotta Feeling. While plaintiff’s expert provided significant detail alluding to the alleged striking similarity between I Gotta Feeling and Take a Drive (Dance Version), he provided little, if any, evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that the Black Eyed Peas’ song was substantially similar to the original Take a Drive; [this conclusion was] … undercut [because] … the dance version contained a bass drum pattern that created a rhythmic feel that was much more similar to I Gotta Feeling than the original version.

The court also dismissed Pringle’s complaint to sanction his willful “spoliation” of potentially relevant evidence: He failed to preserve his 2010 and 2011 computer hard drives. They contained the only electronic evidence of exactly when he created Take a Dive (Dance Version).  He told the court that the hard drives were stolen, replaced, irreparably malfunctioned or destroyed — though he had been warned, formally and informally by defense counsel that these electronics had to be preserved as potentially crucial evidence.