Trademark and Unfair Competition Claims Employed to Stop Copying of Karaoke Discs

In an innovative move which bypasses copyright infringement claims, Slep-Tone sued over a dozen karaoke DJs who use Slep-Tone’s karaoke discs. See Slep-Tone website at http://www.soundchoicestore.com. These compact discs have songs written in a special encoded format known as “CD+G” (“compact disc plus graphics”), in which the CD contains the music and the lyrics, which will display on a screen. According to the Slep-Tone lawsuit, Slep-Tone Entertainment Corp. v. Kara-o-King Inc., U.S. District Court, N.D. Fla, Case No. 5:10-cv-71 (April 2, 2010), and the recent companion case, Slep-Tone Entertainment Corp. v. Kara-o-King Inc., U.S. District Court, S.D. Fla, Case No. 1:11-cv-22481 (July 11, 2011)(primarily against dissolved corporation Karaoke Miami, LLC.), these dozen or so karaoke DJs ripped the karaoke disc music-lyric data from online file sharing systems (something like Napster) and never paid (a) the copyright owner’s license fee (which we assume Slep-Tone paid); nor (b) royalties for the use of the Slep-Tone trademark.

Slep-Tone sued for trademark infringement since the ripped karaoke disc music-lyric data carried the Slep-Tone SOUND CHOICE mark and sued for acts of unfair competition. A conversation with one of the defendants who settled the dispute revealed that Slep-Tone does not own the copyrights, nor does it have exclusive rights to the music copyrights and therefore the karaoke DJs thought they could rip the music without liability. However, Slep-Tone argues in its suit that a great deal of time and money was spent creating the correct mix of music and lyrics and the coordinated display of hte same. The taking of the karaoke disc music-lyric data therefore constituted an act of unfair competition.

It appears that many defendants have settled the case, and some DJs have dissolved their businesses. Of course, this tactic of dissolution after one has been sued will not relieve the principals of liability.

The Slep-Tone case illustrates that talented I.P. lawyers can defend a company’s product with some innovative planning and aggressive litigation. To better protect the karaoke disc music-lyric data, Slep-Tone may have imbedded many copyright notices in each song (to be displayed with the lyrics). A recent case indicated that the removal of the copyright notice was a violation of the DMCA, a portion of the Copyright Act.

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