17 USC 512(f) Claim Against “Twilight” Studio Survives Motion to Dismiss–Smith v. Summit Entertainment

By Eric Goldman

Smith v. Summit Entertainment LLC, 2011 WL 2200599 (N.D.Ohio June 6, 2011). The THResq story on the complaint filing.

Summit Entertainment produces the Twilight series of movies. Matt Smith, a/k/a Matt Heart, is a musician. He posted a 2002 song of his, “Eternal Knight,” to various websites, including YouTube. [You can “enjoy” the song here, but caveat listener. I was clearly not in the target demographic!] Because of the song’s age, it predates the Twilight copyrights. However, it appears Smith tried to link the song to the movie series because the album cover used a font similar to the Twilight font and (apparently falsely) claimed the song was “inspired by the twilight saga.” The case doesn’t mention it, but the album cover also depicts a moon, reinforcing the linkage to Twilight.

Summit submitted takedown notices to the websites where Smith had posted the song. The court indicates that at least some of the takedown notices asserted copyright infringement, but everyone agrees now that Smith didn’t infringe any of Summit’s copyrights. Therefore, with respect to those takedown notices, the court rejects Summit’s motion to dismiss Smith’s 17 USC 512(f) claim for bogusly claiming that Smith infringed Summit’s copyrights.

Summit counterargued that “it had no choice because some websites had only one notice form—for copyright violations.” The court indicates that it might consider that argument later, but not in support of the motion to dismiss. Summit’s argument makes me wonder if websites provide insufficiently granular takedown forms. Even so, I’m not sympathetic to Summit’s retort. If the online form required Summit to make inaccurate assertions, then it needed to contact the websites some other way. Its failure to do so raises the possibility that Summit engaged in a scorched earth campaign to indiscriminately drive Smith’s song off the web one way or another. That could prove to be costly.

The court also survives Smith’s claim for intentional interference with contractual relations, basically for disrupting Smith’s contract with the websites to publish the song. The court says “If the plaintiff can show that defendant knowingly falsely asserted such interest, he in all likelihood can also show that it knew that such false assertion, once made, would lead to removal of plaintiff’s song from the website. Given the contemporary importance to a creator of an artistic work of unimpeded website display, plaintiff’s claim of resulting damages is not implausible.” For the same situations, the court survives the duplicative tortious interference with business relations claim.

The court also survives Smith’s defamation claim–basically, a slander of title type claim. Smith’s fraud, IIED and copyright infringement claims were dismissed.

17 USC 512(f) claims are notoriously hard to win, but Smith’s complaint tells a pretty decent 512(f) story. Smith’s progress with the alternative causes of action is also noteworthy.