In Vergara Hermosilla v. Coca-Cola Co., 2010 WL 2232657 (S.D. Fla. 2010), a U.S. federal court in Florida required Coca-Cola to post a conspicuous notice indicating Rafael Vergara Hermosilla’s (“Vergara”) contribution to a song Coca-Cola intended to use in its advertising during the 2010 World Cup soccer games.
Vergara had been asked to translate into Spanish a portion of the lyrics to the song “Wavin’ Flag” by the artist K’naan and to mix and produce a newly recorded Spanish vocal track for the final mix. Vergara penned the Spanish lyrics of the song, sent rough vocal tracks demonstrating how the vocals should be sung to Universal Music Group (“Universal”), who had the contractual relationship with Coca-Cola, added backing vocals to the rerecorded Spanish track, and mixed and produced the final song.
However, before Universal paid the invoice, it asked Vergara to sign a document indicating the work he completed was a work-for-hire under the Copyright Act. Vergara responded that he would not have gone forward with the project had he known it would be considered a work-for-hire, and he insisted that he receive credit for the production work and that, for the Spanish version of the song, his name appear next to the composer(s) of the original English version. Universal did not agree to Vergara’s proposed terms.
In May, 2010, Vergara filed an action for injunctive relief seeking an order requiring that Coca-Cola cease advertising with or distributing the Spanish version of the song and that Coca-Cola make a public acknowledgement of Vergara’s contribution to the song.
Coca-Cola argued it secured an implied and non-exclusive license to use the song, that the work was a work-for-hire, and that Vergara failed to obtain a copyright registration prior to filing the action, barring him from filing suit. The court rejected all of these arguments and issued an injunction prohibiting Coca-Cola from distributing the work without proper credit given to Vergara.
If you would like to license or obtain rights to music, you should consult counsel experienced in negotiating agreements to help prevent disputes like the one described above. If you have already become involved in such a dispute, you should contact counsel to discuss your options to resolve the issues between you and the other parties.