(CN) – A copyright dispute over the use of Nina Simone’s “Just in Time” in the movie “Before Sunset” should be transferred to a federal court in California, a judge in Manhattan ruled.
U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. said a case that will settle copyright ownership is pending in California, and the outcome of that case will directly impact the New York action.
Simone’s ex-husband, Andrew Stroud, and his company, Stroud Productions & Enterprises, sued Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Warner Independent Pictures in federal court in New York, claiming they owned the rights to “Just in Time.” Stroud allegedly acquired these rights when the couple ended their 11-year marriage in 1972.
But Steven Brown, who’d been Simone’s attorney, claimed he owned a 40 percent interest in her music, based on an agreement he struck with the jazz singer before her death in 2003.
It was Brown who licensed “Just in Time” for use in the movie.
Stroud challenged that license as unauthorized, saying he is the rightful owner of the recording.
Judge Baer explained that the case hinged on “a complicated web of lawsuits” filed in recent years. In 2008, Brown sued Stroud in federal court in California, asking the judge to declare him the rightful owner of Simone’s recordings. Stroud filed a nearly identical action in federal court in Manhattan, a suit that was dismissed pending resolution of the California case.
With the New York action thrown out, Baer granted Stroud’s request to transfer his second lawsuit over the song’s use in “Before Sunset” to California.
It’s unusual for the plaintiff to request a transfer, the judge noted, because plaintiffs get to pick the original venue.
However, Stroud succeeded in showing that changed circumstances warranted the transfer, as the California case will establish copyright ownership, Baer said.
“This shift of the center of gravity of the litigation … is sufficient to overcome the presumption against allowing a plaintiff to transfer venue away from the forum that it chose in the first place,” he wrote.
The case will be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.