Shapiro Arato Granted Summary Judgment In Roc-a-Fella Lawsuit

On September 26, 2016, Judge Andrew L. Carter of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Shapiro Arato’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing all claims in plaintiff Dwayne D. Walker’s lawsuit regarding the Roc-A-Fella Records logo.

Walker claimed that in 1995, he designed the logo used by Roc-a-Fella Records, a record label formed by Defendants Sean Carter (p/k/a Jay Z), Damon Dash, and Kareem Burke.  Walker claimed that he entered into a written agreement for the logo that entitled him to a 2% royalty on all logo-bearing items for a 10-year period from 1997 to 2007.  In 2012, Walker filed suit against Dash, Carter, Burke and three Universal Music Group entities claiming breach of contract and an alternative copyright infringement claim.

The Court dismissed Walker’s contract claim under the Statute of Frauds.  It noted that New York courts have not been “entirely consistent” in how they have dealt with contract claims subject to the Statute of Frauds where the writing is allegedly missing or lost.  The Court concluded that even under the most lenient approach, Walker failed to present evidence sufficient to create a triable issue as to the writing’s existence.  Rather, Walker sought to rely on his own self-serving testimony and that of a third-party witness whose testimony was “completely at odds [with Walker’s] in fundamental ways.”  Absent any other direct or circumstantial evidence of the contract’s existence, Walker could not satisfy the Statute of Frauds.

The Court also dismissed Walker’s copyright claim as untimely under the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations.  Although Walker styled his claim as one for copyright infringement, the Court held that it was “clear” that “ownership in fact forms the backbone of the claim” because Walker’s focus “throughout the litigation” was on establishing his ownership of the copyright in the logo design, and not on Defendants’ alleged infringement of the design.  The Court held that it was “clear-cut” under Walker’s own admissions that Defendants had expressly repudiated his ownership claim no later than 2007 when they failed to make any royalty payment under Walker’s alleged contract.  Because the suit was not filed until 2012, “well more than three years after the claim accrued,” Walker’s copyright claim was time-barred.

 

The Court’s full opinion can be read here. Related press coverage can be read here and here.