Las Vegas casinos, bars fighting $500 million suit over karaoke music tracks

Las Vegas casinos and bars are fighting back against what some attorneys say is an abusive trademark lawsuit involving karaoke performances.

The Las Vegas lawsuit involves Slep-Tone Entertainment Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., which regularly sues bars and karaoke jockeys around the country.

The suits allege the jockeys have unlawfully copied Slep-Tone’s karaoke accompaniment tracks playing songs and displaying lyrics.

The suits claim bars hosting karaoke contribute to this alleged trademark infringement by failing to ensure karaoke jockeys are using genuine accompaniment tracks.

Slep-Tone asserts the bars have a financial incentive to encourage the use of bootleg accompaniment tracks — or to turn a blind eye to this — as they would have to pay the jockeys more money if the jockeys used genuine karaoke material.

The suits allege trademark infringement — as opposed to copyright infringement — because they involve the alleged copying of CDs and other media containing the graphics portion of the accompaniment tracks.

The graphics include the lyrics to the songs and Slep-Tone’s trademark.

On Feb. 16, Slep-Tone filed one of its lawsuits in Las Vegas against nearly 100 karaoke jockeys (KJs), bars and casinos demanding $500 million in damages.

Since then, several bar operators have filed responses in court denying the allegations.

And some of the top trademark and copyright attorneys in Las Vegas have asked U.S. District Court Judge Kent Dawson to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it a Righthaven-like abuse of the court system.

“Rather than filing copyright infringement actions against the KJs who allegedly copied its CDs, Slep-Tone is filing trademark infringement suits against innocent property owners, such as the Caesars Entertainment defendants, who hired independent contractors to perform karaoke shows at their properties. These lawsuits, including this one, are based solely upon the display of the (Slep-Tone) Sound Choice trademark on video screens during karaoke shows,” attorneys for defendant Caesars Entertainment Corp., one of the world’s largest hotel-casino operators, charged in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit this week.

“Slep-Tone has become the Righthaven of trademarks,” wrote the Caesars attorneys with the law firm Lewis and Roca LLP.

Like Dawson, the Lewis and Roca attorneys are plenty familiar with Righthaven. Dawson — like seven other judges around the country — has dismissed Righthaven newspaper copyright infringement lawsuits because of Righthaven’s lack of standing.

“Slep-Tone has filed numerous lawsuits, apparently with little or no pre-filing investigation and no warning. Slep-Tone filed suits against a large number of defendants without differentiating between the KJs who allegedly copied Slep-Tone’s CDs and the innocent property owners (including the Caesars defendants) who had no knowledge of the alleged infringement, no ability to control the music (or the source of the music) used by independent contractor KJs, and who have otherwise done nothing to deserve the burden and bear the cost of defending against a no-warning lawsuit,” the Caesars filing said.

“In true Righthaven fashion, Slep-Tone filed its lawsuits en masse for the purpose of coercing settlements rather than protecting legitimate intellectual property rights,” the Lewis and Roca attorneys charged.

Also seeking dismissal of the suit are attorneys for Golden Tavern Group and its PT’s chain of pubs and taverns.

“Plaintiff has not and cannot allege that PT’s defendants have involvement in or control of the KJs’ alleged unauthorized copying of plaintiff’s (material) or that the PT’s defendants knew or had any reason to know that any copying was taking place,” said the PT’s dismissal motion filed by attorneys at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP.

On top of these motions, Caesars’ attorneys have asked Dawson to sever Caesars from the main lawsuit so Caesars can fight Slep-Tone on its own. If granted, that motion could drive up Slep-Tone’s litigation costs by essentially forcing it to litigate a separate lawsuit.

The attorneys for Caesars charged in their request, “As it has done in other cases around the country, possibly to avoid paying multiple (court) filing fees, Slep-Tone has improperly joined scores of unrelated defendants in its complaint.”

“There is no allegation that any of the defendants acted in concert. Rather, it appears that the only connection between any defendant and any other defendant is that Slep-Tone has accused each defendant of infringing the same trademark. This is insufficient,” Caesars’ filing said.

“Slep-Tone has not shown, and likely cannot show, that the infringements allegedly committed by each of the 99 defendants in this case arose out of the same transaction or occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences,” the Caesars filing said.

Additional high-profile defendants such as Station Casinos LLC and Gilley’s at Treasure Island are expected to file responses in court denying any wrongdoing.

Besides these responses, answers to the lawsuit have been filed by independent bar owners not represented by attorneys.

These responses typically say: “I am current on my ASCAP fees, BMI fees and Jukebox License (music) royalty fees.”

“We do have karaoke, which is provided by an outside contractor. I have spoken with him and he has provided me copies of receipts and ensured me that the Sound Choice tracks that are used have been paid for,” the responses say.

“I am operating within the bounds of the law on this matter,” the responses say.

It appears that so far just one of the karaoke jockeys who was sued has answered the lawsuit.

That KJ, John Valenti (aka Johnny V), denied any wrongdoing in his answer.

Slep-Tone has not yet responded to the motions for dismissal or that Caesars be severed from the main lawsuit.

Slep-Tone says its lawsuit are not abusive and are necessary to crack down on unauthorized copying of its material that has reduced its revenue.

Dawson hasn’t yet indicated when he’ll rule on the dismissal motions.



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Discussion 3 comments

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  1. Slep-Tone is acting like Righthaven but in a worse way. They have filed suit against some KJ's that have bought and paid for their material. Slep-Tone did not take the time to find out who has paid and who has not.

    Hopefully the judges toss this out and make them do it right. Why should any Bar or KJ have to even take the time to fight something they are not involved in?

  2. Are we sure this is NOT a re-incarnation of some of the Righthaven lawyers.........seems to me this just screams of the same tactics....with ONE BIG EXCEPTION, and that is they are going after companies that have big time lawyers on staff. Maybe 2 or so years from now we will be able to buy the royalties to these items as they are liquidated much along the same lines as Righthaven's assets were. They must be teaching a different brand of law in Law School now, as this seems to be becoming a more prevalent practice. And what happened to lawyers and companies getting into trouble and fined for frivolous law suits, or are they only deemed as frivolous when they are brought by private parties and not individuals in Armani suits.

  3. Chunky says:

    He doesn't think there is a "fair use" defense of songs and lyrics accompanied by a company name when used in a commercial establishment such as a bar or club who offers / sells karaoke as part of their entertainment services. If in fact, those disks and karaoke packages or the licenses for them were never paid for.

    ASCAP and BMI are in place to charge and enforce payment for music used in the same such establishments. That is an industry standard. Chunky is no attorney by any measure but this seems to be closer along the lines of a BMI / ASCAP situation that what the Righthaven group tried to pull off.

    That's what Chunky thinks until he has more information!

    Glad to see Steve Green on this story!