IP Law Daily Rapper hit with over $1.8 million in damages over unauthorized movie sequel
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Rapper hit with over $1.8 million in damages over unauthorized movie sequel

By Thomas Long, J.D.

Film production company Fuzzy Logic Productions was entitled to a default judgment against rapper Joseph Tom (professionally known as "Figg Panamera" and "JT the Bigga Figga") and Tom’s company, Trapflix, LLC ("Trapflix GA"), for infringing copyrights and trademarks related to the motion picture "Snow on tha Bluff," the federal district court in Los Angeles has ruled. Tom and Trapflix had participated in the production and marketing of an "unauthorized" sequel, "Snow on tha Bluff 2." The court awarded damages of over $1.8 million and attorney fees of over $39,000 to Fuzzy Logic, and also decided that Fuzzy Logic was entitled to injunctive relief (Fuzzy Logic Productions, Inc. v. Trapflix, LLC, July 11, 2016, Anderson, P.).

Released in 2012, "Snow on tha Bluff" depicted the experiences of a fictional person named Curtis Snow, who resided in an Atlanta neighborhood called "the Bluff." Fuzzy Logic asserted that it held trademark rights in the name of the film. According to Fuzzy Logic, Tom and Trapflix GA, along with rapper Calvin Broadus (known as "Snoop Dogg") and Broadus’s company, also called Trapflix, LLC ("Trapflix CA"), produced, marketed, and distributed the unauthorized sequel, "Snow on tha Bluff 2." The sequel was distributed on the "Trapflix" website operated by Trapflix GA. The film’s credits listed "Figg Panamera" and "Snoop Dogg" as executive producers.

Fuzzy Logic filed suit against Tom, Broadus, and the Trapflix companies, alleging copyright and trademark infringement, trademark dilution, false designation of origin, and other claims under federal and California law. Fuzzy Logic settled and dismissed its claims against Broadus and Trapflix CA. Tom and Trapflix GA filed a copyright infringement counterclaim against Fuzzy Logic. At some point after that, allegedly due to failures by Tom and Trapflix GA to pay fees, as well as unspecified misconduct, the attorneys for those defendants sought permission to withdraw as counsel. The court informed Trapflix GA that it could not represent itself and gave the company time to obtain new counsel; however, no new counsel for either Tom or Trapflix GA entered an appearance. Their answers and counterclaims were struck and defaults were entered on May 26, 2016. Fuzzy Logic then filed a motion for a default judgment and sought damages, a permanent injunction, and attorney fees.

Default judgment. The court determined that, in light of the allegations in Fuzzy Logic’s complaint, the defendants’ abandonment of their defenses and counterclaims, and the defendants’ willful failure to participate in the litigation, Fuzzy Logic’s interest in the efficient resolution of the case outweighed any interest in adjudication on the merits. Therefore, the motion for default judgment was granted with respect to liability.

Copyright Act damages. With respect to copyright damages, the court noted that the very nature of the "sequel" created by the defendants supported a finding of willfulness. Moreover, Fuzzy Logic asserted that Tom had contacted Fuzzy Logic in an effort to acquire the necessary intellectual property rights, but when that effort failed, the defendants released the film anyway. Under these circumstances, the court concluded that a statutory damages award of the maximum allowable amount, $150,000, was warranted.

Lanham Act damages. Fuzzy Logic also was entitled to damages under the Lanham Act, the court said; awarding damages for both copyright and trademark infringement did not constitute a double recovery. Fuzzy Logic’s trademark-related damages request was supported by evidence provided by an accountant, who opined that Fuzzy Logic suffered at least $375,000 in lost profits as a result of its inability to release an authorized sequel to its film. The accountant also calculated that the defendants had obtained at least $42,430 in revenues from their release of the infringing film and were unjustly enriched by at least $250,000 as a result of increased subscription fees for Trapflix GA’s streaming service associated with the unauthorized film. Finally, the accountant estimated that it would cost Fuzzy Logic $155,300 to conduct a corrective advertising campaign to restore its reputation and repair the damage caused by consumer confusion resulting from the infringement. The court trebled the amounts for Fuzzy Logic’s lost profits and the defendants’ profits but declined to treble the unjust enrichment and corrective advertising damages. Therefore, Fuzzy Logic was awarded a total of $1,657,590 under the Lanham Act.

Injunctive relief. There was no adequate remedy at law for the defendants’ trademark infringement and unfair competition, the court said. Accordingly, permanent injunctive relief was warranted.

Attorney fees. Due to the defendants’ willful misconduct, the court determined that the case was "exceptional" in nature and justified an award of fees under both the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act. Fuzzy Logic failed, however, to properly allocate its fees to those incurred in relation to litigating its claims against Tom and Trapflix GA, and to those incurred in defending against the counterclaim. Therefore, the court arrived at a fee amount according to a local rule providing that a party obtaining a default judgment was entitled to $5,600 plus 2 percent of the amount of damages over $100,000. Using this method, the court awarded $39,751.80 in attorney fees.

The case is No. 2:15-cv-06203-PA-SS.

Attorneys: James Becerra (Reuben Raucher & Blum) for Fuzzy Logic Productions, Inc.

Companies: Fuzzy Logic Productions, Inc.; Trapflix, LLC

MainStory: TopStory Copyright Trademark CaliforniaNews

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