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Dash v. Mayweather

In copyright infringement action, court grants defendants’ motions for summary judgment on damages, holding that plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof under § 504(b) of the Copyright Act because he could not demonstrate a causal link between the alleged infringement and any enhancement to defendants’ revenue, and plaintiff’s evidence of actual damages was speculative.

In copyright infringement action, court grants defendants’ motions for summary judgment on damages, holding that plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof under § 504(b) of the Copyright Act because he could not demonstrate a causal link between the alleged infringement and any enhancement to defendants’ revenue, and plaintiff’s evidence of actual damages was speculative.

Plaintiff, Anthony Lawrence Dash, brought suit against defendants, alleging that the song Yep, played during defendant Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s entrance at two of defendant World Wrestling Entertainment’s events infringed a copyright that he holds in a “beat” called the Tony Gunz Beat. Following a contentious discovery dispute involving damages issues, the court bifurcated the case and, as the first phase in the bifurcated proceedings, agreed to consider “the issue of Plaintiff’s entitlement to actual damages and/or a lost profits based measure of damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(b).” Section 504(b) allows the copyright holder to recover both actual damages and profits of the infringer attributable to the infringement. After surveying Fourth Circuit precedent, the court affirmed that “summary judgment may be properly awarded to an infringer where there is no conceivable connection between the infringement and the claimed revenues” or where the copyright holder can offer no “more than mere speculation.”

Considering “infringer profits” first, the court noted that while revenues with fixed levels, generated by sources independent of the infringed work, cannot be proper measures of damages under §504(b), revenues generated and collected from the use of the specific infringed work are. Because the parties had stipulated that playing Yep did not increase the defendants' revenues beyond what they otherwise would have been, the court found that plaintiff failed to present any evidence demonstrating a “causal link between the alleged infringement and the enhancement of a revenue stream at the WWE events in question.” Based on that finding, the court held that that plaintiff could not recover any of defendants’ profits as damages.

The court also held that Dash failed to demonstrate any actual damages under §504(b). In order to recover actual damages, Dash must demonstrate the market value of the beat – the license fee that Dash would have charged. Dash did not offer concrete evidence sufficient to indicate the actual value of the beat to which he holds the copyright, however. Rather, he offered only evidence comparing fees paid to other entertainers whose music was played at World Wrestling Entertainment events. The court found this evidence to be mere speculation as to the value of his copyrighted beat, noting that the actual damages calculation focuses on the plaintiff’s work, and not anyone else’s.

Because Dash failed to meet his §504(b) burden with respect to a calculation of profits, and failed to present evidence in support of his claim for actual damages, the court granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor on both damages issues. Given that Dash was not entitled to any damages, the court also declined to proceed to the liability phase, and dismissed the case.