“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is one of the most popular holiday songs around and is played on radio stations across the country every Christmas season. It is also now the subject of contentious copyright litigation after a federal judge ruled recently that litigation over an allegedly unauthorized YouTube video containing audio of the song can continue despite the absence of a co-owner of the copyright.
Elmo Shropshire owns the copyright to the song along with Patsy Trigg d/b/a Kris Publishing. The copyright was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office on December 27, 1979. The defendant posted a video on YouTube–which has since been removed due to the pending litigation–which combined Christmas-related pictures with audio of a Canadian musical group, “The Irish Rovers,” singing the Grandma song. Shropshire contacted the poster and requested that he either pay the licensing fee or immediately remove the video. The poster refused.
Shropshire filed a copyright infringement suit in federal court, but his first (amended) complaint was dismissed because, among other reasons, Shropshire did not name Trigg or Kris Publishing in the lawsuit. The court gave him permission to amend, however, and the second time around, Shropshire named Kris Publishing as a defendant, but Kris Published settled out and was promptly dismissed. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that Patsy Trigg d/b/a Kris Publishing was a necessary and indispensable party and thus the suit could not go forward without her. The Court disagreed.
In order to determine whether a party is “necessary” to the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19, the court held, courts must follow a three-pronged analysis. “First, the Court must determine whether an absent nonparty should be ‘required to be joined if feasible’ under Rule 19(a). . . .The Court ‘must determine whether the absent party has a legally protected interest in the suit,’ and if so, whether ‘that interest will be impaired or impeded by the suit.'” Next, the Court has to make a determination about the feasibility of joining the absent party. The third and final step occurs only if joining the party is not feasible. In that case, the court must determine “whether in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be dismissed.”
The court ultimately found that Kris Publishing was not an “indispensable party” and allowed the suit to continue in its absence. The purpose of the joinder rule had already been satisfied by joining it to the case, despite the fact that it was later dismissed upon settlement.