LV karaoke operators sued for $500 million by ‘Righthaven of trademark infringement’
16 February 2012
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
Las Vegas DJ Service
E String Grill & Poker Bar
Karaoke Las Vegas
Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Harrah’s Las Vegas (Caesars)
Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon (Caesars)
Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino (Caesars)
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
Decatur Restaurant & Tavern
DJ Tara King Productions
Kixx Bar at Boulder Station Casino
Gilley's Las Vegas at Treasure Island
Half Shelf Seafood and Gaming
Mr. D's Sports Bar
Office 7 Lounge & Restaurant Inc.
Showtyme Karaoke & DJ
Calico Jack's Saloon
Mike R. Gordon
Red Label Lounge
KJ's Bar & Grill
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
Roll 'n' Mobile DJ's
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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