Sony, Ricky Martin Win, but Not Exactly

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 09, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

'Prevailing party,' like the word 'success,' is a relative term.

In the music world, Ricky Martin is a success. He won even more fame singing "Vida" at the World Cup in Brazil," but a lawsuit says he stole the song from a lesser-known artist.

Luis Adrian Cortes-Ramos, a finalist on "Idol Puerto Rico," sued Martin and his producers in Cortes-Ramos v. Sony Pictures of America. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals said the defendants succeeded on a motion, but that's not the same as being a prevailing party.

Motion to Compel

A trial court granted a motion by Sony and its affiliates to compel arbitration in the case, and also awarded the defendants' attorneys fees and costs. The appeals court, however, said they didn't qualify as a prevailing party on the motion.

The First Circuit said compelling arbitration was a procedural victory, not a win on the merits. Under 17 U.S.C. Section 505, the court said, the "touchstone of the prevailing party inquiry" is a change in the legal relationship of the parties.

"Here, there has been no such alteration," the appellate panel said.

The parties have simply moved to another forum, and the arbitrator will decide who prevails in the end.

Fees and Damages

In the motion, the defendants sought nearly $48,000 in attorney's fees. The appeals court rejected that request.

Ramos, in his complaint, seeks $10 million in damages for copyright violations. He said he wrote a song in a Sony competition that was almost identical to the song Martin later performed.

According to reports, Martin and Sony took part in a public contest to find a new song for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. "They stated the winning composer would be recognized and he would be given credit for his work," Ramos alleged.

But, he said, the defendants took his song and never recognized him as the composer.

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