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Guy Hobbs, An Individual v. Elton John A/K/A Sir Elton Hercules John

October 29, 2012

GUY HOBBS, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELTON JOHN A/K/A SIR ELTON HERCULES JOHN, AN INDIVIDUAL, BERNARD JOHN TAUPIN A/K/A BERNIE TAUPIN, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND BIG PIG MUSIC, LTD., A FOREIGN BUSINESS ORGANIZATION, FORM UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On April 26, 2012, Plaintiff Guy Hobbs brought the present three-count Complaint against Defendants Elton John, Bernard John Taupin, and Big Pig Music, Ltd., alleging copyright infringement in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 101, et seq. (Count I), as well as state law claims for the equitable remedies of constructive trust (Count II) and an accounting (Count III), pursuant to the Court's supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367(a). On August 7, 2012, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.

LEGAL STANDARD

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "In evaluating the sufficiency of the complaint, [courts] view it in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, taking as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and making all possible inferences from the allegations in the plaintiff's favor." AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). Courts may also consider documents attached to the pleadings without converting the motion into a motion summary judgment, as long as the documents are referred to in the complaint and central to the claims. See Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012); Wigod v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 673 F.3d 547, 556 (7th Cir. 2012) Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c).

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff Guy Hobbs, who was born in Australia and raised in the United Kingdom, is an award-winning freelance photojournalist. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 7.) At the beginning of 1982, after studying photography at Salisbury Art College in the United Kingdom, Hobbs took his first job as a photographer on a Russian cruise ship, the Taras Shevchenko. (Id. ¶ 8.) While on board the Russian cruise ship, Hobbs became romantically involved with a Ukrainian waitress. (Id.)

Before leaving the Taras Shevchenko in the spring of 1982, he wrote the lyrics to a song called "Natasha" inspired by his experiences with the waitress. (Id. ¶ 9.) In his Complaint, Hobbs alleges that "Natasha" is about an impossible love affair between a Western man and an Ukrainian woman during the Cold War. (Id.)

In April 1982, Hobbs transferred to a Greek ship and, after a year at sea, he moved to London for two years. (Id. ¶ 10.) On May 10, 1983, Hobbs registered his copyright of "Natasha" in the United Kingdom through the process proscribed by the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office. (Id.) Again, on November 11, 1983, Hobbs registered his copyright of "Natasha" in the United Kingdom, along with four other songs' lyrics he had written. (Id. ¶ 12.) Meanwhile, based on information Hobbs found in a September 1984 issue of a magazine called "The Songwriter," Hobbs forwarded the "Natasha" lyrics to several music publishers, including Defendant Big Pig, asking them to consider publishing his lyrics and assisting him in connecting with singer/songwriter collaborators. (Id. ¶ 11.) Hobbs maintains that at that time, he thought Big Pig was an independent publishing company and did not know it was affiliated with Defendants John and Taupin. (Id.)

In October 1984, after having had no success with his lyrics, Hobbs returned to his career as a photojournalist. (Id. ¶ 13.) In 2001, Hobbs came across the written lyrics of Defendants' "Nikita" for the first time in a song book.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 14.) According to Hobbs, "Nikita" involves an impossible love affair between a Western man and an East German woman during the Cold War. (Id.) Hobbs further alleges that when he read the "Nikita" lyrics, he was shocked by the many similarities between the lyrics of "Nikita" and "Natasha" and that since 2001, he has consistently communicated with Defendants John, Taupin, and their attorneys demanding compensation for the unauthorized use of his lyrics. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.)

In 1985, Big Pig copyrighted the musical composition entitled "Nikita" -- Certificate of Registration PA0000267371/1985-11-18. (Id. ¶ 27.) Hobbs maintains that the authorship on the "Nikita" copyright application lists John and Taupin, although Hobbs alleges that John and Taupin never sought or obtained his permission to copy, duplicate, perform, or otherwise use his lyrics to "Natasha" in their musical composition and sound recording of "Nikita." (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.)

II. Songs' Lyrics

The lyrics to Defendants' song "Nikita" are as follows: Hey Nikita is it cold In your little corner of the world You could roll around the globe And never find a warmer soul to know Oh I saw you by the wall Ten of your tin soldiers in a row With eyes that looked like ice on fire The human heart a captive in the snow Oh Nikita you will never know, anything about my home I'll never know how good it feels to hold you Nikita I need you so Oh Nikita is the other side of any given line in time Counting ten tin soldiers in a row Oh no, Nikita you'll never know Do you ever dream of me Do you ever see the letters that I write When you look up through the wire Nikita do you count the stars at night And if there comes a time Guns and gates no longer hold you in And if you're free to make a choice Just look towards the west and find a friend Oh Nikita you will never know, anything about my home I'll never know how good it feels to hold you Oh no, Nikita you'll never know Oh Nikita you will never know, anything about my home I'll never know how good it feels to hold you Nikita I need you so Oh Nikita is the other side of any given line in time Counting ten tin soldiers in a row Oh no, Nikita you'll never know Counting ten tin soldiers in a row.

(R. 23-10, Ex. H, "Nikita" lyrics.)

Hobbs' lyrics to "Natasha" are: You held my hand a bit too tight I held back the tears I wanted just to hold you, whisper in your ear I love you, girl I need you Natasha...Natasha... I didn't want to go Natasha...Natasha... the freedom you'll never know the freedom you'll never know

But a Ukraine girl and a UK guy just never stood a chance Never made it to the movies, never took you to a dance You never sent me a Valentine, I never gave you flowers There was so much I had to say But time was never ours You sailed away -- no big goodbyes Misty tears in those pale blue eyes I wanted just to hold you, whisper in your ear I love you, girl I need you Run my fingers through your hair Natasha...Natasha... I didn't want to go Natasha...Natasha... the freedom you'll never know the freedom you'll never know You held my hand a bit too tight

I held back the tears I wanted just to hold you, whisper in your ear I love you, girl I need you Natasha...Natasha... I didn't want to go Natasha...Natasha... the freedom you'll never know the freedom you'll ...


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