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Southgate v. Soundspark, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 31, 2016

JEREMY SOUTHGATE, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUNDSPARK, INC., ANA VILLANUEVA, CHRISTOPHER NOLTE, LYOR COHEN, THEORY ENTERTAINMENT LLC, WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., AND WARNER MUSIC GROUP CORP., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ALLISON D. BURROUGHS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

In this action, pro se Plaintiff Jeremy Southgate alleges infringement and dilution of his “Sound Spark Studios” and “Spark It” trademarks. From October 2014, when he initiated this action, through March 2015, Southgate filed eight amended complaints, adding nearly 100 defendants. In a May 1, 2015 order [ECF No. 26], the Court granted Southgate leave to proceed in forma pauperis, found that the operative complaint would consist of the original complaint [ECF No. 1] and the first amended complaint [ECF No. 6], and directed that summons issue as to the seven defendants named in the original complaint: SoundSpark, Inc., Ana Villanueva, Christopher Nolte, Lyor Cohen, Theory Entertainment LLC, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., and Warner Music Group Corp.

Presently before the Court are two motions to dismiss. On July 10, 2015, defendants Lyor Cohen, Theory Entertainment LLC, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., and Warner Music Group Corp. filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 66], and on July 17, 2015, the remaining three defendants-Christopher Nolte, SoundSpark, Inc., and Ana Villanueva-did the same. [ECF No. 68]. For the reasons stated herein, both motions are GRANTED and the Complaint is DISMISSED in its entirety.

I. Factual Background

The following allegations are from Southgate’s complaint, which the Court accepts as true for the purpose of resolving the motions to dismiss.

Jeremy Southgate is a musician “who is trying to start a new music and entertainment company on a strong foundation.” [ECF No. 6 (“Complt.”) ¶ 7]. He is the founder and president of Sound Spark Studios, doing business as a Massachusetts sole proprietorship and as a solely owned Delaware limited liability company. Id. ¶ 5. In April 2014, he registered Sound Spark Studios, LLC with the Delaware Division of Corporations. Id. ¶ 39. As of October 2014, he had devoted three years and invested nearly $47, 955 to form and develop Sound Spark Studios. Id. ¶ 13. He has a website for the business at www.soundsparkstudios.com. Id. 32.

In June 2012, Southgate filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to obtain federal trademark registration for “Sound Spark Studios.” Id. ¶ 12. According to the USPTO’s online records, the design mark for “Sound Spark Studios” was registered as of September 16, 2014, under Registration No. 4, 606, 004, with a stated date of first use in commerce of April 20, 2014. See USPTO online records for Registration No. 4, 606, 004. The mark consists of a gold encircled eight-point star, two red ellipses, and the words “SOUND SPARK STUDIOS” in blue:

(IMAGE OMITTED)

See Id. The Complaint contains numerous claims of infringement and dilution of this “Sound Spark Studios” mark. Id. ¶¶ 58-64.

More specifically, Southgate alleges that defendant Lyor Cohen, a well-known music industry executive, visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) in November 2013. [Complt. ¶ 26]. He claims that defendants Christopher Nolte and Ana Villanueva, who were attending MIT at the time, approached Cohen with “a good faith idea for a ‘Kickstarter or Indiegogo for music, ’” which would later briefly be known as “SoundSpark.” Id ¶ 27. In January 2014, Nolte registered the web domain name “SoundSpark.me, ” id ¶ 28, and in April 2014, Nolte and Villanueva incorporated their new start-up business as SoundSpark, Inc. [ECF No. 69 at 1]. In May 2014, the two won a $10, 000 prize from MIT in connection with their SoundSpark venture, and they continued to work on their business the following summer. [Complt. ¶¶ 31, 36].

On August 7, 2014, Villanueva sent Southgate an e-mail asking to discuss his trademark over the telephone, which made Southgate suspicious that she was “trying to set [him] up . . . since phone calls take place ‘off the record.’” Id ¶ 33. After setting certain conditions for their call, Southgate spoke with Villanueva and Nolte on August 11, 2014. Id ¶ 35. The two told Southgate that they had founded a “music company startup” and expressed an interest in Southgate’s “Sound Spark Studios” mark. Id ¶ 36. Southgate responded that he “intended to reserve all rights for use” of the mark. Id Southgate claims that he also mentioned his plan for a “derivative SPARK IT.” Id Villanueva and Nolte advised Southgate that they would call back when they decided whether to find a different name for their company. Id. Later that same day, Nolte called Southgate back and told him that they had decided to find another name for their company. Id. ¶ 38. Southgate sent them a confirming email. Id.

On August 19, 2014, Nolte and Villanueva’s venture SoundSpark, Inc. filed a federal standard character trademark application for “SparkIt, ” and SparkIt replaced all public instances of SoundSpark on webpages controlled by Nolte and Villanueva. ¶ 42. Two days later, on August 21, 2014, SoundSpark, Inc. filed another standard character trademark application, this time for TapTape, and TapTape then replaced all references to SoundSpark and SparkIt on webpages controlled by Nolte and Villanueva. See USPTO online records for Registration No. 4, 928, 314; Complt. ¶ 46. Southgate “believe[s] TAPTAPE is a decoy intended to make [him] believe, while not true in fact, that the defendants have changed their mark and abandoned SOUNDSPARK and SPARKIT.” Id. ¶ 47. He claims that Nolte, Villanueva, and SoundSpark, Inc. have “knowingly counterfeited and willfully infringed” his “Sound Spark Studios” trademark and have “conspired to register [his] service mark SPARKIT.” Id. ¶¶ 60-62.

Based on Cohen’s apparent “mentorship” of Nolte and Villanueva, id. ¶ 37, Southgate alleges an array of claims against Cohen, his current company Theory Entertainment LLC, his former employer Warner Music Group Corp., and the purportedly related Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Id. ΒΆΒΆ 58-59; 63-64; 104-125. He claims that various logos, websites, and videos used by ...


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