COURTS:

LV karaoke operators sued for $500 million by ‘Righthaven of trademark infringement’

List of defendants

A partial list of those sued Wednesday in federal court in Las Vegas:

Ellis Island Casino & Brewery

Hot Shots Bar and Grill aka Kelley's Pub

The Pub LLC

Beauty Bar

Cafe Moda

William Carney

Las Vegas DJ Service

Johnny Valenti

E String Grill & Poker Bar

Karaoke Las Vegas

Jack Greenback

Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Harrah’s Las Vegas (Caesars)

Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon (Caesars)

Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino (Caesars)

Kenny Angel

Golden-PT's Cheyenne-Nellis 5 LLC

Golden-PT's Pub West Sahara 8 LLC

Golden-PT's Pub Centennial 32 LLC

Golden-PT's Pub Stewart Nellis 2 LLC

Golden Tavern Group LLC

Steve & Ray Karaoke

Legends Casino and Pugdawgs LLC

Starmaker Karaoke

Debbie Harms

Decatur Restaurant & Tavern

Putters

DJ Tara King Productions

Kixx Bar at Boulder Station Casino

Palace Station

Dansing Karaoke

Gilley's Las Vegas at Treasure Island

Half Shelf Seafood and Gaming

James Bellamy

Mega-Music Productions

Mr. D's Sports Bar

Rick Dominguez

Sound Select

Island Grill

Office 7 Lounge & Restaurant Inc.

Jake's Bar

Mike Corral

Dave Corral

Showtyme Karaoke & DJ

Calico Jack's Saloon

Mike R. Gordon

Red Label Lounge

Terry Cicci

Terry-Oke Karaoke

KJ's Bar & Grill

Tim Miller

Vision & Sound Entertainment

Thunderbird Lounge and Bar

Aruba Hotel and Spa

Audio Therapy DJ

Matte McNulty aka DJ Matte

Gold Spike Hotel & Casino

Mardi Gras Lounge - Best Western

The Nevadian LLC

TJ's All-Star Karaoke

John Menniti

Roll 'n' Mobile DJ's

Karaoke Too

A company one attorney calls the ''Righthaven of trademark infringement'' is suing 97 Las Vegas-area karaoke jockeys, bars and casinos offering karaoke, alleging trademark infringement and demanding $500 million in damages.

Attorneys for Slep-Tone Entertainment Corp. filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court against local karaoke operators such as Ellis Island Casino & Brewery, several PT’s Pubs, a company called Las Vegas DJ Service and even giant resort operators Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Station Casinos LLC.

The suit says Slep-Tone, of Charlotte, N.C., makes and sells "Sound Choice" karaoke accompaniment tracks playing songs and displaying lyrics — and that it has been nearly driven out of business by pirating or the illegal copying of its material by rogue karaoke jockeys who refuse to comply with trademark and copyright laws.

"Whereas in the past a KJ (karaoke jockey) would buy multiple copies of an original disk if he or she desired to operate multiple systems, now they simply clone their songs for multiple commercial systems or even their entire karaoke song libraries to start a new operation," the lawsuit says.

"Additionally, many KJs or operators starting in the business simply buy computer drives pre-loaded with thousands of illegally copied songs.

"These practices have become so widespread that Slep-Tone has been driven nearly out of business,” the suit says.

A Las Vegas attorney familiar with the company, speaking on the condition of not being named, said Slep-Tone is "the Righthaven of trademark infringement — making dubious claims of counterfeiting against small-time karaoke jockeys.''

There’s also at least one website questioning the company’s litigation practices at soundchoicesucks.blogspot.com/ .

''Don’t be fooled — get an attorney’s advice prior to talking to Sound Choice,'' says a May 2010 post on that site complaining about alleged lawsuit bullying tactics.

There is at least one potential similarity between Slep-Tone and Righthaven, the struggling Las Vegas newspaper copyright infringement lawsuit company.

Both, critics say, use steep statutory damage provisions in the law to convince or even coerce defendants into settling.

Slep-Tone, for instance, is demanding $2 million per trademark infringement in its Las Vegas lawsuit but is likely to settle many of those infringements for just $10,000 or so.

Donna Boris, an attorney for the company in Beverly Hills, Calif., said Thursday it’s common practice for attorneys in lawsuits to demand the maximum damages — even when discovery hasn’t begun and it’s unknown what a reasonable settlement amount would be for each defendant given its particular transgressions.

"It’s not an appropriate comparison," she said of the attorney’s comments comparing Righthaven and Slep-Tone.

There are some sharp differences between the two companies: Slep-Tone sues over alleged infringements of materials it created — Righthaven sues over material assigned to it by client newspapers.

Slep-Tone says it gives alleged infringers a chance to settle or resolve their claims before suing them — though at least two Las Vegas defendants said Thursday they didn’t know anything about the lawsuit against them or threats they would be sued.

Righthaven is known for the acknowledged no-warning nature of its lawsuits — something critics said shocked some defendants into settling.

Slep-Tone also took steps to educate the karaoke community about how to avoid trademark infringement problems. It’s part of the Karaoke Industry Alliance of America, which has a "Get Legit or Quit" campaign urging karaoke jockeys not to infringe on trademarks.

That’s something Righthaven didn’t do prior to filing its copyright suits.

And while Righthaven is known for suing nonprofits and hobby bloggers along with for-profit companies, Slep-Tone appears to target only karaoke businesses and jockeys that stand to profit from the use of its material.

"Every defendant uses karaoke for a commercial purpose," Boris said.

Slep-Tone’s Las Vegas lawsuit demands up to $2 million in damages "per trademark infringed by counterfeiting" and total damages of $500 million (some of the 97 defendants are accused of multiple violations).

However, its chances of winning anywhere near that amount appear to be slim based on the company’s track record in obtaining settlements and in obtaining judgments in other courts across the country, where it has filed more than 50 lawsuits since 1997.

A karaoke industry insider told the Las Vegas Sun and VEGAS INC on Thursday that well before Slep-Tone filed suit, it had a private investigation agency in Phoenix called APS and Associates send demand letters to suspected infringers in the Las Vegas area.

These letters gave the recipients five days to respond and negotiate a settlement to avoid being sued, with the settlement figure believed to be generally $10,000 or less.

The $10,000 figure is in line with what Slep-Tone has sought in damages against defendants in at least one other state who defaulted by not answering the lawsuit against them.

It’s unknown how many karaoke disc jockeys and venues have settled locally.

Slep-Tone investigators may tell lawsuit targets they’ve been caught red-handed infringing, but that hasn’t stopped some defendants from fighting back.

Some defendants around the country have hit the company with counterclaims.

A Phoenix karaoke jockey, for instance, charged in his claim last year that he had been defamed by the company when its investigators falsely told clients the jockey was infringing on trademarks and the investigators threatened to sue his clients.

In another case in Charlotte, attorneys hit Slep-Tone with a counterclaim last month charging unfair and deceptive trade practices, trademark misuse and other counts.

They claim Slep-Tone threatens to sue karaoke venues that don’t register for a ''Safe Harbor'' program or won’t certify they aren’t doing business with a karaoke operator being sued by Slep-Tone.

By pressuring the karaoke venues to stop doing business with their client, Slep-Tone was trying to monopolize part of the North Carolina market, the counterclaim says.

Slep-Tone has denied these allegations.

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  1. The use of hard drives to store material has greatly clouded the issue. Back in the day when I ran a karaoke show it was very simple, everything was on video discs and if you had more than one operation you had to buy more than one copy of a disc.

    Today, cloning means that one legal purchase can be used over and over. On the surface, I would side with the publisher and say you must purchase a separate copy of each song for each piece of equipment that it will be stored on, other than a single back up copy.

    This should not be taken to preclude bulk purchase arrangements where a KJ could pay a discounted price for multiple copies or titles.

    I see this in a very different light than I do Righthaven.

  2. speaking of Righthaven, Steve -- are we in a lull or did you / the paper tire of the whole Righthaven deal?

  3. Slep-Tone in the past has filed suit against people that DID PAY for their products. They are not checking facts before filing the suits.

    They are using the shotgun approach and we have seen how that has worked out in the past.

    They are making people prove they have the licenses after the suits are filed. That is not going to fly far and is going to end up costing them money in counter suits.