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Copyright Blog

Will They All Live Happily Ever After?

Former student sues the Regents of the University of California for, among other things, professor's alleged copyright infringement.

On August 13, 2020, Ashanti McMillon ("McMillon") filed a Complaint against the Regents of the University of California, two professors of the university, a California nonprofit, and one hundred unnamed defendants (collectively, the "University"). The Complaint alleged that while McMillon was a student at the University between 2013 and 2015, she was induced by Setsu Shigematsu ("Shigematsu"), one of the professor defendants, to create storybooks and songs for Shigematsu's for-profit company, Guardian Princess Alliance, LLC.

The Complaint claims that Shigematsu made various oral and written promises of compensation for the creations, including promises of ownership in the company and royalties for the works. However, McMillon claims the promises have not been fulfilled. Allegedly, Shigematsu "intentionally used course credits as leverage to exploit, harass, and bully" McMillon and other students. McMillon asserts that the University was made aware of these problems and did not sufficiently address them and that the University is responsible for the conduct of Shigematsu as one of its employees.

The Complaint lays out a number of claims: breach of contract, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of labor laws, copyright infringement, misappropriation of image and likeness, and conversion. These claims center around three copyrighted works that McMillon wrote under Shigematsu's alleged pressure and misrepresentations: two storybooks entitled Princess Mariana and Lixo Island and Princess Vinnea and the Gulavores, as well as a song, "My Heart is True," embodied in a music video on the Guardian Princess website and on YouTube without McMillon's permission. According to the Complaint, McMillon's likeness was also misappropriated in the music video and in the illustrations of Princess Vinnea, whose appearance was modeled after McMillon's.

The University has yet to file an Answer to the Complaint, but it did file a Notice of Removal, taking the case from the Superior Court of the State of California in Riverside County to the United States District Court for the Central District of California based on federal copyright jurisdiction. Updates on the case will be shared as they become available.