SBS Victorious In Salsa Copyright Case


A copyright fight involving the songs of such salseros as Celia Cruz has been brought to a halt by a Federal court in New York, bringing dances of victory to Spanish Broadcasting System and its legal counsel.

In a swift verdict on the first day of the trial, entertainment attorneys James Sammataro and Hans Hertell, with the Miami office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan successfully defended SBS in a bench trial before the U.S. District for the Southern District of New York that involved a copyright suit filed by Latin American Music Company (LAMCO) and La Asociación de Compositores y Editores de Música Latinoamericana (ACEMLA). The plaintiffs claim to collectively own or control rights to over 40,000 musical compositions, including several from such salsa acts as Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe and the Fania All-Stars.  

LAMCO and ACEMLA initially alleged that SBS’s radio stations had engaged in extensive copyright infringement, playing thousands of songs without a license. The plaintiffs asserted that each infringement was willful and demanded $150,000 for each of the alleged infringements.

After several dismissal motions, the claim from LAMCO and ACEMLA was paired to 13 unique musical works.  After a summary judgment ruling, this was trimmed to six songs. The Court set a bench trial to hear evidence on infringement, willfulness and damages.

At the trial, the court ruled that the plaintiffs “miserably failed” to offer any credible evidence of SBS’s alleged infringement.

After the cross examination of the plaintiffs’ president and main witness, the court ruled that serious questions exist as to whether they actually owned any rights to the disputed works.

In the view of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan, they didn’t, ruling that it was “not even close to a close call.”

Furthermore, Sullivan issued separate show cause orders to both LAMCO/ACEMLA and their counsel as to “why they should not be sanctioned.”

“SBS should be commended for its resolve to fight vexatious claims,” said Sammataro, the national head of Stroock’s Entertainment Department. “We hope that the Court’s ruling will be the nail in the coffin of LAMCO and ACEMLA’s litigious history with SBS.”

SBS’s defense was devised in collaboration with Richard Reimer and James Fitzpatrick, counsel for interested non-parties BMI and ASCAP, whose rights were also implicated in this proceeding.

SBS General Counsel Richard Lara added, “We are pleased with this victory, a decision that should have a chilling-effect on would-be plaintiffs who assert highly questionable rights that are not supported by any credible evidence of wrongdoing on the part of radio station owners and operators.”

It’s just the latest tit-for-tat between the plaintiffs and SBS, which owns Tropical WSKQ-FM “Mega 97.9” in New York — the nation’s top-rated Spanish-language radio station — and Spanish Contemporary sibling WPAT-FM 93.1 in nearby Paterson, N.J. The parties have been involved in periodic disputes dating decades.



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