In what is considered a significant monetary judgment for copyright infringement lawsuits, the United States District Court in Los Angeles has awarded plaintiffs Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. (EPE), SOFA Entertainment, Inc. and songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller $2.8 million in damages and attorneys fees to be paid by Passport International Productions, Inc. (a/k/a Passport Video, Inc.) and its owner, Dante Pugliese.
The case began in 2002 when, without permission and against numerous express objections, Passport manufactured and sold a set of eight DVDs entitled "25th Anniversary Elvis: The Definitive Collection August 16, 1977 - August 16, 2002," otherwise entitled "The Definitive Elvis." The 16-hour set included copyrighted works and the rights of publicity owned by Plaintiffs. In reaching its decision, the Court agreed that Passport released the set with the full knowledge that Plaintiffs did not consent to the unauthorized use of their copyrighted material, and that their activities would mislead consumers and damage Plaintiffs. Passport appealed the case up to the 9th Circuit, claiming "Fair Use," arguing that the set was a documentary look at the life of Elvis Presley. The Court did not agree in a 2005 ruling, and the decision successfully delineated the limits of the Fair Use defense.
“This is a landmark decision for all of us,” stated Gary Hovey, Executive Vice President of Entertainment/Music Publishing for Elvis Presley Enterprises. “We are delighted with the Court’s ruling, the damages awarded and the precedent it sets.”
The copyrighted materials included Presley home movies owned by EPE, material from “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and portions of “Ed Sullivan Rock & Roll Classics – Elvis Presley,” owned by SOFA Entertainment, a producer of movies, videos and television programs. Other unauthorized material was from the EPE owned “The Elvis 1968 Comeback Special (a/k/a "The Singer Special,”) “Aloha From Hawaii,” and “Elvis In Concert,” which also include songs written by Leiber & Stoller.
“It is reassuring to know that the courts have seen fit to uphold our copyrights thereby putting unscrupulous parties on notice that historic performances from ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ cannot be used by those who prefer to steal rather than to license,” commented Andrew Solt of SOFA Entertainment. “We are very pleased with the court’s informed decision.”
“Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller have always supported the ownership and protection of intellectual property,” said Randy Poe, President of Leiber & Stoller Music Publishing. “This ruling puts on notice anyone wishing to improperly claim ‘Fair Use,’ rather than acquiring permission from the copyright owner.”
George R. Hedges of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, LLP successfully argued the case for the Plaintiffs.
The Definitive Elvis is the biggest selling Elvis DVD in Australia. It was the #1 selling Music DVD in 2002 and has been released in ordinary and limited edition "Gold" editions.