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If the complaint is insufficient as to only the registration ground, if shouldn’t be dismissed with prejudice

In August 2013, Ricky Martin and Sony… claimed that they were sponsors” of and advertised the “SuperSong” contest. The contest was a competition; each participant was required to compose a song with lyrics in English, Portuguese, or Spanish. The participants were required to submit their songs in “video format showcasing the performance of the composer” by January 6, 2014.

The winning composition was to be sung by Martin at the grand opening of the 2014 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) World Cup in Brazil. After seeing the contest advertisement, Cortés-Ramos composed a song and recorded a music video in his hometown in Puerto Rico with several musicians, dancers, and chorus singers.

On January 2, 2014, Cortés-Ramos uploaded his music video to the contest’s website. A few days later, he was selected as one of the top-twenty finalists. On January 15, 2014, he signed “several documents (releases)” from Sony Brazil.

Eventually, another participant was selected as the winner in February 2014. In April 2014, Martin released his song Vida. Martin’s “music video was almost identical to the one that Cortés-Ramos composed and created.”

Cortés-Ramos sued Ricky Martin and other unknown defendants, alleging violations of federal copyright law and various Puerto Rico laws.

The district court concluded that Cortés-Ramos had alleged a violation of copyright law and in support had sufficiently alleged that Martin had access to his music video. The district court held that it “may infer that Martin obtained access to Plaintiff’s music video through the submission of the SuperSong Contest.”

However, the district court concluded that Cortés-Ramos’s complaint was deficient because it did not sufficiently allege similarity, even though the complaint alleged that Martin’s Vida is “almost identical” to Cortés-Ramos’s music video.

Given that there is a reasonable inference that Martin had access to Cortés-Ramos’s music video, the appeal concluded that the “almost identical” allegation is sufficient to meet Cortés-Ramos’s burdens of pleading both indirect actual copying and substantial similarity. Therefore, aside from registration, Cortés-Ramos sufficiently alleged a copyright violation.

Cortés-Ramos’s complaint did not allege that registration had been obtained prior to suit. Cortés-Ramos has conceded that he had not secured registration before filing this action. The appeal thus agreed with the district court’s decision on the sufficiency of the complaint with respect to registration.

But since the appeal determined that the complaint is insufficient as to only the registration ground, the district court should not have dismissed the copyright claim with prejudice. Generally, when a plaintiff’s claim is dismissed for failing to satisfy a pre-suit requirement, the dismissal should be “without prejudice” when the plaintiff may able to satisfy the requirement in the future.

There appears to be no dispute that the Copyright Office registered Cortés-Ramos’s music video after he filed his complaint with the district court, and thus he could allege registration in a new action.

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