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Marshak v Schaffner Marvelettes

Marshak v Schaffner Marvelettes

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Published by mschwimmer
decision sdny marshak marvelletes
decision sdny marshak marvelletes

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Published by: mschwimmer on May 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTSOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK--------------------------------------LARRY MARSHAK,Plaintiff,-v-KATHERINE SCHAFFNER, et al.,Defendants.--------------------------------------APPEARANCES:For the plaintiff:Samantha MorrisseyWilliam DunneganDunnegan & Scileppi LLC350 Fifth AvenueNew York, NY 10118For the defendants:Kerren B. ZinnerAndrew B. MessitePamela L. SchoenbergReed Smith LLP599 Lexington AvenueNew York, NY 10022DENISE COTE, District Judge:X:::::::::X11 CIV. 1104 (DLC)OPINION & ORDEROn January 17, 2012, plaintiff Larry Marshak (“Marshak”)and defendants Katherine Schaffner (“Schaffner”) and the Estateof Gladys Horton (“Horton”) cross-moved for summary judgment.This Opinion addresses the parties’ cross-motions for summaryjudgment on Marshak’s false designation of origin claim. For
 
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the following reasons, the defendants’ motion for summaryjudgment on Marshak’s false designation of origin claim isgranted, while Marshak’s motion for summary judgment on hisfalse designation of origin claim is denied.BackgroundThe following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise noted.In 1961, Motown Records Corporation (“Motown”) had one of itsfirst major hits with the song “Please Mr. Postman,” recorded bya new singing group called The Marvelettes.
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The group beganlife as the “Can’t Sing Yets”, five high school girls fromInkster, Michigan, including Schaffner, Horton, Georgia Dobbins(“Dobbins”), Juanita Cowart (“Cowart”), and Georgeanna Tillman(“Tillman”). According to Schaffner, after the Can’t Sing Yetsperformed at an Inkster High School talent show in early 1961, ateacher arranged a Motown audition for the group in Detroit.The group impressed Motown executives at the audition, whoinstructed the girls to return with an original song to perform.In response, Dobbins wrote “Please Mr. Postman”. After hearingthe group perform the song, Motown offered to sign the group toa recording contract.
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Unless otherwise indicated, this Opinion will use the term “TheMarvelettes” to refer to the original singing group thatrecorded and performed between 1961 and 1969, and whose membersincluded Schaffner and Horton.
 
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First, however, the group needed a new name. According toSchaffner, Dobbins suggested “The Marvels”, which Motownexecutive Berry Gordy changed to “The Marvelettes”. Each memberof the group was then required to sign, along with a guardian, aMotown recording contract. Because Dobbins’ father refused tosign the contract, Dobbins was replaced in the group by WandaYoung (“Young”).On July 1, 1961, Schaffner and Horton both signed recordingcontracts with Motown (“the Contracts”). The Contracts providefor royalty payments to the Marvelettes’ members based onpercentage revenues of records sold. With respect to thegroup’s name, the Contracts state:The collective name of the group is THE MARVELETTES.We shall have all of the same rights in the collectivename that we have to use your name pursuant toparagraph 6 and you shall not use the group nameexcept subject to the restrictions set forth in thatparagraph. In the event that you withdraw from thegroup, or, for any reason cease to participate in itslive or recorded performances, you shall have nofurther right to use the group name for any purpose.Paragraph six of the Contracts provides, in relevant part, thatMotown “shall have the right . . . to sell and deal [records andother reproductions of performances] under any trademarks ortrade-names or labels designated by us[.]” The Contractsprovide for four-year terms, and Horton and Schaffner signed

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