In October 2010, Bryan Pringle sued The Black Eyed Peas, music producers David Guetta and Fred Riesterer, and their respective music publishers and record companies for copyright infringement. Pringle claimed that The Black Eyed Peas’ hit 2009 song “I Gotta Feeling” infringed the musical composition copyright in Pringle’s 1998 song “Take a Dive” and the musical composition and sound recording copyright in a derivative “dance version” of that song that Pringle allegedly created in 1999. The derivative version was identical to the original except that it removed Pringle’s vocal track and added a repeating eight-bar guitar “twang” sequence, which Pringle alleged was strikingly similar to a guitar sequence in “I Gotta Feeling.” When Pringle applied to register the copyright in the derivative version in November 2010, the Copyright Office registered the copyright in the sound recording but denied registration for the musical composition, determining that the added material did not contain sufficient original musical authorship to be copyrightable.
The district court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding no evidence that any defendant had access to “Take a Dive” and that “Take a Dive” had no protectable similarities to “I Gotta Feeling.” As to the 1999 “dance version” of Pringle’s song, the district court found that Pringle lacked a valid copyright in that work, because the copy that he deposited with the Copyright Office in November 2010 was not made directly from the original 1999 recording but was instead a manual reconstruction. The district court also dismissed Pringle’s copyright claim as a sanction for willful spoliation of evidence, based on Pringle’s destruction of two computer hard drives that defendants suspected contained evidence that Pringle had created the derivative version after the release of “I Gotta Feeling” by downloading publicly available portions of “I Gotta Feeling” and inserting them into the original “Take a Dive.” (Read our summary of the district court’s opinion here.)
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment for defendants, finding that Pringle’s evidence raised “only the barest possibility” of access to the original version of “Take a Dive,” and that the deposit copy of the derivative version was an “impermissible reconstruction.” The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the district court’s imposition of sanctions against Pringle’s counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 based on repeated attempts to serve process on a French music publisher via its U.S. sub-publisher, which method of service the district court had previously found to be improper. The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the district court’s denial of sanctions against Pringle and his counsel under Rule 11 for asserting frivolous infringement claims.