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1. Mighty Clouds Guitarist Committed?
Highest Court Seventh Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Police Officer(s)
Other Mighty Clouds of Joy
Short Description Plaintiff is apparently a rather unfortunate musician. He's the lead guitarist in the Mighty Clouds of Joy (a gospel group of renown), and also the proprietor of a car-detailing shop. According to the facts in this case, following a minor incident he was jailed, then later committed to a mental asylum, where he avoided more extreme committal by recognizing the name on an officer's badge as a relative of one of his shop's customers. He sued for multiple instances of inadequate medical treatment, but was only granted default judgment for injuries resulting from inattention to his dislocated shoulder, and not those resulting from slipping on excrement from an overflowed toilet. Wow. Plaintiff gets about $33,000-54,000, including potential punitive damages. - LSW


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2. Theme Song Co-Writer Wants Royalties
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2004
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Do Luca, Joseph
Film Producer(s)
Universal Studios
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff, a professional musician, was hired by Defendant to compose and record music for commercials and TV shows. Plaintiff composed and created music for the TV shows Xenia: Warrior Princess and Young Hercules, and subsequently demanded royalties from Defendant after those shows became extremely successful in the late 1990's. The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the grounds that there are no triable issues of material fact as to plaintiff's claim, since Defendant had a non-exclusive implied license to the work Plaintiff created while employed by Defendant. - SKR


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3. Mighty Guitarist Hurt in Accident
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
Year Ended 2001
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Insurer(s)
Other Mighty Clouds of Joy
Short Description As lead guitarist for gospel group, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Plaintiff claims he was paid in cash, and that other employment avenues otherwise open to him were rendered impossible after the accident at issue in the suit. The appellate court held that the trial court's excluding a subsequent work-related injury was not an abuse of discretion, but that the trial court should have allowed evidence of Plaintiff's lost wages as a member of the group and a freelance producer. Exclusion of the latter was essentially summary judgment and premature. - LSW


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4. McEntire's Band in Plane Crash (II)
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 1996
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Chartered Airliner(s)
Other Back-Up Musician(s)
McEntire, Reba
Short Description This is a wrongful death suit against the company that owned and flew the jetliner carrying Reba McEntire's back-up band, after thepilot took off without radio communications (under "visual flight tules") and the plane crashed into a mountain, killing the entire band (but not Reba). This suit was brought by the family of the deceased bandleader against the company that chartered the plane and assigned the pilot. At trial, the jury found Defendant only 45% negligent, assigning the remainder to FAA employees. On appeal, the court held that the FAA's radio controller was not negligent in its communications with the pilot prior to take-off; once the plane takes off under visual flight rules, the pilot assumes all responsibility. In fact, no FAA empoyees were legally negligent, leaving only Defendants to foot the bill. Furthermore, the court said, the jury miscalculated damages at under $750,000, when more accurate figures were over $1 million. The case was remanded for both reasons: Defendant was solely responsible and the damages were too low. - LSW


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5. Plastic Band Member vs. Yoko
Highest Court New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Year Ended 1989
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Ono, Yoko
Other Capitol Records
Elephant's Memory
Lennon, John
Plastic Ono Band
Showtime/Movie Channel
Sony Music
Short Description Plaintiff was a back-up musician for John Lennon and Yoko Ono for a concert in Madison Square Garden in 1972, organized as a charity event, and aired on NBC. Although Plaintiff was allegedly not really playing anything live (the parts were pre-recorded, and he was hired to pretend), when Ono and other associated parties released the performance on video in the 1980s, Plaintiff sued, alleging multiple causes of action, including commercial misappropriation (privacy), unfair competition, and fraud. The trial court initially dismissed the trademark-based actions, but the appellate division reversed that decision. Both courts agreed he'd presumptively stated a cause of action for appropriation (his name was even listed on the insert), and fraud. Further, the appellate division said, his action could be properly characterized as a breach of contract action. Regardless, this complaint cannot be disposed of summarily be Defendants. - LSW


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6. Disabled Bassist Wants Aid
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1987
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Federal Entity and/or Official(s)
Other Berry, Chuck
Hampton, Lionel
Otis, Johnny
Short Description An unfortunate story of a once-successful musician, who had previously bass for Chuck Berry, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Otis, and others, but whose life descended into a state of despair. After losing his hearing and thus being unable to perform music, Plaintiff was a government employee until terminated for absenteeism. He sued for disability benefits, but was ineligible since he hadn't worked the job the required period. - LSW


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7. Beatles Tribute Show Mutiny Quelled
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Ohio
Year Ended 1987
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Defendants Back-Up Musician(s)
Other Beatles
Cover Band(s)
Short Description Before "tribute" bands were the industry staple they are today, Robert Cesare formed Revolver, a stage show that re-created the mid-1960s Beatles experience. Revolver did not just re-enact Beatles concerts, which were traditionally only 30 minutes long and included minimal dialogue, but instead performed for up to an hour, featured scripted dialog among the various Beatles, and included audience participation during the set. Several members left Revolver and started their own identical stage show, called 1964, which copied Revolver's style, performance, and dialogue, and advertised themselves being "formerly Revolver" (this was untrue, because Revolver was owned by Plaintiff). Plaintiff sued his former employees, and the trial court found that Defendants had engaged in deceptive trade practices, having pilfered Plaintiff's production and advertising materials entirely. Further, the court held that the record was "replete with evidence of the uniqueness of Revolver, the band started and guided by Cesare." Revolver's performance, said the court, was protectable trade dress, and the Defendants' impersonation created a likelihood of confusion. The court granted an injunction of unlimited geographic scope, because, though based in Ohio, Revolver had performed on national television. Last, even if the band's dialogue was partially developed by Defendants while in Revolver, it was nonetheless owned by Revolver, which was owned by Plaintiff. Since Plaintiff had not abandoned the mark, Defendants needed to back off. This case set a lasting precedent for unfair competition laws in the music industry. - LSW


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8. Guitarist Sues Fats for Injuries
Highest Court Third Circuit
Year Ended 1983
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Domino, Fats
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is the former guitarist for Fats Domino's band, and was injured in an accident while on tour. He was advised by doctors to refrain from performing for three weeks. When he later rejoined the band, he was fired two different times for drug use and disagreeableness. He brought suit after the firings, initially in 1971, but didn't serve Domino until 1976, and the trial didn't start until the early 1980s. He requested tort damages and compensation under workers' disability benefits. The court denied his action for tort liability, finding no basis for the claim, but granted workers compensation for three weeks' pay, plus the medical expenses he could prove (immediately after the accident). Plaintiff wanted 500 weeks' compensation, alleging the injury continued to affect him for years afterward, and that it led to his problems with drugs and alcohol. The court found these claims unsupported; three weeks and one doctors visit is all the compensation Plaintiff got. - LSW


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9. Sideman's Workers' Comp Claim
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Michigan
Year Ended 1981
Plaintiffs Back-Up Musician(s)
Defendants Educational Institution(s)
Other Herman, Woody
Short Description Plaintiff was a member of Woody Herman's orchestra who sustained injuries while performing at Defendant's campus in Allendale, Michigan, while there for a musicians' workshop. Plaintiff initially filed for workers' compenstation, listing Herman as his "statutory employer," but Herman was uninsured in the state and unable to pay. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a suit against Defendant in federal court, which was dismissed, followed by a state suit against the same party. When the state's employment board found Defendant liable to Plaintiff for workers' compensation--not as his literal employer, but only as his "statutory employer" via their principal-agent relationship--Defendant sought to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging the workers' comp claim was Plaintiff's "exclusive remedy." Plaintiff pointed out that employees (in the literal, not merely statutory sense) had two causes of action against their employers, both in workers comp and tort, and that differential treatment for parties like Plaintiff was either 1) unintended by the statute or 2) in violation of constitutional principles. The court disagreed, and granted Defendant's motion for an accelerated judgment in their favor if the employment board's decision is upheld on appeal. - LSW


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10. Familes of Deceased Band Sue Airliner
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1980
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Estate of Music Manager(s)
Defendants Private Airline(s)
Other Back-Up Musician(s)
Croce, Jim
Music Manager(s)
Short Description Plaintiffs are heirs of passengers aboard the aircraft that crashed and killed Jim Croce and his whole group, in this opinion specifically his road manager, and a variety of issues are before the court. Of importance, the Circuit Court held that Defendant who owned the aircraft was liable for the driver's negligence, even if hired by a different agency, on the principle of estoppel. Since negligence may have indeed been the cause of the crash, and since Defendants were common carriers, the District Court's decision is affirmed. - LSW


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