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Copyright infringement claims can go forward against Mary J. Blige, known as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,” the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, reversing a lower court determination. Songwriter Sharice Davis filed suit against Blige and others, claiming that the singer used two of Davis’ songs on a 2001 hit album without giving her credit. But Davis’ co-author, Bruce Chambliss, transferred his rights to the songs to his son, Bruce Miller, a defendant in the case, one day before being deposed. Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of New York’s Southern District held that Davis could not sue Blige and others over Blige’s songs “LOVE” and “Keep it Moving” because “Davis’ [alleged] status as joint owner with Chambliss, who in turn transferred his interests to Miller, bars her from stating a claim for copyright infringement against Miller, or any other of the defendants, [who are] his licensees.” The 2d Circuit disagreed in Davis v. Blige, No. 05-6844-cv. In a decision by Judge Jos� A. Cabranes, the court said that an action for infringement by the co-author of a song could not “be defeated by the ‘retroactive’ transfer of copyright ownership from another co-author to an alleged infringer.” That would allow an infringer to “buy” his way out of an infringement suit, Cabranes wrote. “The result is that infringement is encouraged and rewarded.” Davis alleged that “LOVE” and “Keep it Moving,” two of the songs on Blige’s triple-platinum album No More Drama, infringed the copyrights to two of her songs � respectively, “L.O.V.E.” and “Keep it Moving.” Davis received no songwriting credit on Blige’s album for the songs that she said she’d co-written with Chambliss, who is not a party in the case. Davis said she met Blige, who is Miller’s sister and Chambliss’ stepdaughter, in the late 1990s. She said that she performed “L.O.V.E.” for Blige at that time, and that Miller subsequently approached her on Blige’s behalf, seeking to buy several of her songs, including “L.O.V.E.” Davis declined the offer. In August 2001, defendants Ausur Music, Mary J. Blige Publishing, Bruce Miller Publishing and Kwame Holland Publishing registered “LOVE,” while defendant Universal Musica MCA Music Publishing and Blige, Miller and Dana Stinson registered “Keep It Moving” with the U.S. Copyright Office. In February 2002, Miller agreed to provide Universal with “an exclusive license to exploit his copyright interest in the Album compositions as well as his copyright interests in any other compositions not previously assigned to other music publishing companies.” In August 2002, Davis registered her compositions with the Copyright Office, listing Chambliss as a co-author. A year later, she filed suit, alleging claims under the Copyright Act. She also stated claims under New York law for unfair competition, unjust enrichment and violations of New York’s consumer protection statutes. Discovery in the case ensued. But just one day before Chambliss was to be deposed, he allegedly transferred interest in the disputed songs to Miller. “Defendants argue that, as a result of the transfer agreements, Miller became a co-owner of the disputed compositions as of the date of the creation of the compositions,” Cabranes said. “Accordingly, they contend that, because Davis cannot sue a co-owner of her copyright for infringement, Davis’s suit is barred against Miller and those to whom Miller had licensed the disputed compositions (including Blige and the other defendants).” However, Cabranes wrote, the written transfer agreements “cannot extinguish Davis’s accrued infringement claims against any of the defendants.”

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