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UK Photographer’s Lawsuit Against Napster Over Sugar Minott Photo Must Proceed To Trial, Judge Says

May 5th, 2024

A federal judge in Seattle has declined to grant summary judgment to either party in a copyright infringement case involving a photograph of the late Reggae and Dancehall singer Lincoln “Sugar” Minott

The case will now proceed to trial.

The lawsuit was initiated by British photographer Adrian Boot against Rhapsody International Inc., the company that operates the Napster music streaming service. Boot’s photograph of Minott was taken in 1979 and later used as cover art for the 2005 album Sugar Minott At Studio One.  The original photo itself (not the album cover) was subsequently used on Napster’s streaming service, allegedly without Boot’s consent.

In her 12-page order handed down on Friday (May 4), obtained by DancehallMag, U.S. District Judge Kymberly K. Evanson said a clear-cut decision was not possible because there were issues of material fact that must be resolved by a jury.  

This includes, among other things, whether Rhapsody had an implied or express license to display Boot’s original photograph of Minott on its Napster website.

Covert art for ‘Sugar Minott At Studio One’

Boot had initially licensed the photograph to Soul Jazz Records for £552.25. According to the photographer, his agreement with Soul Jazz Records permitted the photograph’s use solely on the cover of Minott’s album. He claimed that Napster’s digital use on their website would have required a separate license fee of £2,147.56 through his company Urbanimage.

Rhapsody countered, suggesting the photograph’s use was legally permissible under licenses passed through several entities, from Soul Jazz Records, the initial licensee, to music distributor Play It Again Sam (PIAS), and finally to Rhapsody/Napster.

Addressing Rhapsody’s argument that Boot granted an implied license to Soul Jazz Records to distribute the photograph with the album, Judge Evanson wrote, “Rhapsody has not explained why the Court should conclude, as a matter of law, that Boot intended to grant an implied license to Soul Jazz Records that would permit it to distribute the photograph in its original form, rather than the photograph as part of the Sugar Minott at Studio One album cover.”

The judge noted the “scant evidence” presented on the issue: “Because the question of fact as to whether Rhapsody’s use was within the scope of an implied license granted to Soul Jazz Records cannot be answered on the record before the Court, this issue must be presented to the jury.”

Regarding Rhapsody’s claim of an express license through its contract with content aggregator Play It Again Sam (PIAS), Judge Evanson said, “Because the Court finds that on this record, there are questions of fact as to whether Rhapsody’s use was licensed either expressly or impliedly, and that issue is dispositive to both cross-motions for summary judgment, both motions must be denied and this case must proceed to trial.”

Additionally, the judge denied both parties’ requests for attorney’s fees and set new deadlines leading up to a trial date scheduled for June 10, 2024.

Boot, a former teacher who once taught Physics in Jamaica, has photographed several other famous musicians, including Bob Marley.

The Sugar Minott At Studio One album is a collection of the Jamaican singer’s work at the legendary Studio One during the 1970s.  It included songs such as Hang On Natty, Vanity, Jah Jah Children, and Love Gonna Pack Up.

Miniott passed away in July 2010 at age 54.

This content was originally sourced and posted at DancehallMag »
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