Rick Ross hustles every day, but he doesn’t file paperwork with the U.S. Copyright Office quite so often. So a flawed registration application for his 2006 hit shouldn’t prevent him from pursing a copyright infringement claim against LMFAO, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
Ross in 2014 sued the duo, Stefan Kendal Gordy (Redfoo) and Skyler Austen Gordy (SkyBlu), claiming its “Party Rock Anthem” chorus about daily shufflin’ rips off his lyric “everyday I’m hustlin.'”
A Florida federal judge in April 2016 tossed the lawsuit, finding that Ross didn’t have a valid copyright for “Hustlin.'”
An 11th Circuit panel Friday overturned the ruling, finding that while three copyright registrations had been filed and granted for the work and each contained errors, no one has contended Ross was not its true author.
Further the appellate panel finds that because LMFAO never argued Ross’ copyright was invalid as an affirmative defense the district court erred in asking the Copyright Office to weigh in on its validity.
“Courts ‘generally lack the ability to raise an affirmative defense sua sponte’ with minor exceptions that are not relevant to copyright infringement actions,” states the opinion. “Here, the district court — and not the defense — raised the issue of registration validity, and thus it erred in the manner of its review.”
Copyright registration is required to file an infringement claim, but inaccuracies in the registration don’t always void compliance.
“In order to invalidate a registration, (1) the application must contain inaccuracies, (2) the inaccuracies must be material, and (3) the applicant must have the required scienter of intentional or purposeful concealment,” states the opinion, which is posted in full below. The 11th Circuit found the district court erred as to the third factor.
“Rappers are skilled in poetry and rhythm — not necessarily in proper copyright registration procedures,” states the opinion. “While error is not generally a strong legal argument, it is a sufficient counter to a claim of Fraud on the Copyright Office…. In short, the Appellants were erroneously ‘hustled’ out of court, and now deserve to be heard on the merits.”
The case is being remanded back to the district court to determine whether LMFAO will succeed on its parody/fair use defense. See the court filing here.