An episode of an A&E true-crime program focused on an attempted murder in Knoxville has spawned an unexpected lawsuit in Nashville’s U.S. District Court.
One might expect that the typical lawsuit arising from such programs would typically fall into the realm of slander/libel, with those portrayed in dramatizations unhappy about their image in the wider public eye. Not in this case. Instead, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are upset over the episode’s use of the University of Tennessee sports anthem “Rocky Top.”
The copyright holder, House of Bryant Publications LLC, filed the lawsuit last week against A&E Television Networks over the use of the song in an episode of its City Confidential series entitled “Phantom Hitman.”
The episode, which examined a 1994 attempted contract killing in Knoxville, used a “lengthy and recognizable” portion of the song performed by the University of Tennessee’s Pride of the Southland Band without, the lawsuit claims, having obtained a license to do so.
“Rocky Top,” originally penned in 1967 by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, has been recorded and covered by more than a dozen different bands, and is best known as a near constant refrain at Neyland Stadium.
House of Bryant, consisting of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s sons Dane and Del Bryant, along with the estate of Felice Bryant, is the sole holder of the copyright, according to the lawsuit. While BMI licenses the song for performance, the Bryants are required to issue an additional license to “synchronize” the song with video.
According to the complaint, A&E had previously sought the required licenses for use in its programming but was denied by the Bryants due to “the nature of the material contained in the planned program.”
Having been denied in the past, the Bryants claim that the network “willfully included ‘Rocky Top’ on their program without permission.” The offending episode originally aired in December of 2004, and, the plaintiffs assert, has continually aired since that date.
The lawsuit, filed by Richard S. Busch of King & Ballow in Nashville, asks for damages of $150,000 for each infringement, in the event that A&E is found to have “willfully infringed.” On the other hand, if the network is “not found to have willfully infringed,” the Bryants ask only $30,000 for each offense.
Attempts last week to reach someone at A&E for comment were unsuccessful.
United States Bankruptcy Court
Nukote International Inc. and four subsidiaries. Chapter 11 petition filed June 3. Assets: $86 million. Liabilities: $79 million, including at least $14.5 million in unsecured debt.
Printer-supplies maker Nukote, which has operations across North America and in Europe, chooses Nashville as the venue for its reorganization process, just as its prior owners did when the company went through Chapter 11 between 1998 and 2000.
The filings say Nukote owes lender CIT Group about $30 million on a secured financing package. The company owes $2.6 million to its largest unsecured creditor, Grupo American Industries S.A. de C.V., of Chihuahua, Mexico. Other major creditors are located in Canada, Hong Kong, Vietnam and across the U.S. Nashville’s ABF Freight System Inc., the only local company on the list of creditors, is owed $189,000.
Nukote employs 29 people at a distribution center in Franklin. “There will not be any job cuts as a result of the filing,” said Russell Mack, a spokesman for Dallas-based Richmont Holdings, majority owner of privately held Nukote. “We will continue to conduct business as usual.”
Davidson County Circuit Court
Artis R. and Renay G. Butts v. Oliver C. ‘Crom’ Carmichael III, E. Townes Duncan, J. Thomas Holland II, McCrory Lane Partners LLC and Tammy A. Cocke. Filed June 1. The parents of 13-year-old Jeremy Butts, who drowned on June 6, 2008 while swimming at a former quarry at 7848 McCrory Lane, sue the owners of the property as well as Cocke, who took their child to the quarry. Defendant Duncan heads Solidus Co., a major shareholder of SouthComm Inc., publisher of NashvillePost.com.
The complaint alleges that the quarry’s owners “engaged in gross negligence and willful and wanton conduct that proximately caused” the accident. They had sought regulatory approval to fill it in with construction waste, but that plan failed after environmentalists and others objected. Although a Metro Council ordinance had specifically said the quarry property should be fenced in, “there was not an adequately maintained fence in place between the 30-acre parcel and the quarry,” the lawsuit claims.
News accounts at the time of the accident suggested that neighborhood youngsters had forced open a gate and breached a fence to gain entry to the property. About 20 people were reportedly swimming at the quarry on the afternoon of the boy’s death.
The legal action asks for unspecified punitive damages as well as $10 million in compensatory damages. It seeks to “pierce the corporate veil” of the LLC and hold the company’s owners personally liable.
Davidson County Chancery Court
Robert A. Sharp Sr. v. Harold E. Crye Revocable Living Trust and Crye personally. Filed May 29. Real estate fixture Harold Crye, co-founder of one of the region’s largest residential brokerages, is alleged to have fallen behind on loan payments to former real estate entrepreneur Sharp. Crye’s firm, Crye-Leike Realtors, is not a party to the lawsuit.
Sharp provided $1.4 million in seller financing to Crye in a 2007 transaction involving 194.5 acres of land in Fairview. The complaint claims he has not complied with a revised payment plan covering the remaining balance on the loan, $1.1 million. The filing also says Crye breached his original contract by failing to uphold his responsibility to handle the “leasing, management, and maintenance” of two residences located on the property.
Plaintiffs’ attorney: Fred Russell Harwell of Adams & Reese LLP. Efforts to reach Crye last week were not successful.
Tennessee Court of Appeals
Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. v. Michael Neill. Ruling issued June 2. The state’s appellate jurists must have been thinking about what Mama always said: You could put an eye out with that thing.
Neill, of Bedford County, had just vanquished a buddy in a rousing paintball battle when his opponent took off his protective goggles. Just then, Neill decided to blast him one more time in a bit of playful hazing, and he fired at his friend’s chest. Unfortunately, the projectile curved in flight and struck the friend squarely in the eye, causing “some injury,” in the words of the opinion.
Tennessee Farmers, as insurer of the property where the accident took place, sued to try to enforce a policy exclusion for intentional actions. But the trial court found that Neill’s shot was “a celebratory gesture,” with no harm intended. The appeals court has concurred with that reasoning — while passing no judgment on the wisdom of Neill’s act.
Plaintiff’s attorney: Steven Ashley Dix, Murfreesboro. Defendant’s attorney: Lee Bussart Bowles of Lewisburg.
Walker Duncan and Kyle Swenson also contributed to this report.