Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

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SoundExchange, a nonprofit entity, charged with the responsibility of collecting royalties for performing artists and copyright owners of music, filed suit under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., against Muzak, a company that supplies digital music channels to satellite television networks who, in turn, sell to subscribers. SoundExchange alleged that Muzak underpaid royalties owed. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court concluded that the better interpretation of the statute is that the term "service" under section 114(j)(11) contemplates a double limitation; both the business and the program offering must qualify before the transmissions are eligible for the favorable rate. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court. View "SoundExchange, Inc. v. Muzak LLC" on Justia Law

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Mavrix filed suit against LiveJournal for posting 20 of its copyrighted photographs online. The district court granted summary judgment for LiveJournal, holding that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(c), safe harbor protected LiveJournal from liability because Mavrix's photographs were posted at the direction of the user. In this case, when users submitted Mavrix's photographs to LiveJournal, LiveJournal posted the photographs after a team of volunteer moderators led by a LiveJournal employee reviewed and approved them. The court disagreed with the district court and concluded that the common law of agency does apply to this analysis and that there were genuine factual disputes regarding whether the moderators were LiveJournal's agents. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for trial. The court addressed the remaining issues that the district court addressed because these issues may be contested on remand. On remand, the district court must determine whether LiveJournal met the section 512(c) safe harbor threshold requirement by showing that the photographs were posted at the direction of the user, then LiveJournal must show that it lacked actual or red flag knowledge of the infringements and that it did not financially benefit from infringements that it had the right and ability to control. View "Mavrix Photographs, LLC v. LiveJournal, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, former student athletes, filed suit against T3Media, asserting claims for statutory and common law publicity-rights, as well as an unfair competition claim under California law. Plaintiffs alleged that T3Media exploited their likenesses commercially by selling non-exclusive licenses permitting consumers to download photographs from the NCAA's Photo Library for non-commercial art use. The district court held that the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., preempted plaintiffs' claims and granted T3Media's special motion to strike pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.16. In this case, plaintiffs concede that their suit arises from acts in furtherance of T3Media's right to free speech. Therefore, plaintiffs must demonstrate a reasonable probability of prevailing on their challenged claims. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to do so because the federal Copyright Act preempts plaintiffs' claims. The court explained that the subject matter of the state law claims falls within the subject matter of copyright, and the rights plaintiffs assert were equivalent to rights within the general scope of copyright. Because the district court did not err in granting T3Media's special motion to strike, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Maloney v. T3Media, Inc." on Justia Law

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Unicolors filed suit against Urban, alleging copyright infringement of the Subject Design. The district court concluded that defendants were liable for copyright infringement. A jury found that Urban willfully infringed Unicolor's copyright in the Subject Design and awarded damages, as well as fees and costs. The court concluded that a district court may grant summary judgment for plaintiffs on the issue of copying when the works are so overwhelmingly similar that the possibility of independent creation is precluded. The court determined that the works at issue in this case met this standard. The court explained that, because of the decisive objective overlap between the works, no reasonable juror could conclude under the intrinsic test that the works are not substantially similar in total concept and feel. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Unicolor. The court also concluded that it is permissible to infer copying in this case, even absent evidence of access; the district court properly held that Unicolors had a valid registration in the Subject Design; and the jury's verdict finding willful infringement is therefore supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Unicolors, Inc. v. Urban Outfitters, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, BWP Media and National Photo Group, filed suit against T&S, an internet service provider, for direct and secondary infringement. Plaintiffs alleged that T&S hosted an internet forum on which third-party users posted images that infringed copyrights owned by plaintiffs. The district court granted summary judgment for T&S. The court adopted the volitional-conduct requirement in direct-copyright infringement cases, and found that BWP did not contend that T&S did, in fact, engage in such conduct. In this case, the court explained that T&S hosts the forum on which infringing content was posted, but its connection to the infringement ends there. Rather, the users posted the infringing content. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "BWP Media USA, Inc. v. T & S Software Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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The “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of a “design of a useful article” are eligible for copyright protection as artistic works if those features “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article,” 17 U.S.C. 101. Plaintiffs have copyright registrations for two-dimensional designs, consisting of lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes, appearing on cheerleading uniforms that they design, make, and sell. They sued a competitor for infringement. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated. That test is satisfied here. The feature cannot be a useful article or “[a]n article that is normally a part of a useful article,” nor the replica of a useful article in another medium. While plaintiffs have no right to prevent anyone from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform that is identical in shape, cut, or dimensions to the uniforms at issue here, an artistic feature that is eligible for copyright protection on its own does not lose that protection simply because it was first created as a feature of the design of a useful article, even if it makes that article more useful. View "Star Athletica, L. L. C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of broadcast stations and copyright holders, filed suit against FilmOn X, an operator of a service that uses antennas to capture over-the-air broadcast programming, much of it copyrighted, and then uses the Internet to retransmit such programming to paying subscribers, all without the consent or authorization of the copyright holders. Under section 111 of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 111(c), a "cable system" is eligible for a so-called compulsory license that allows it to retransmit "a performance or display of a work" that had originally been broadcast by someone else—even if such material is copyrighted—without having to secure the consent of the copyright holder. So long as the cable system pays a statutory fee to the Copyright Office and complies with certain other regulations, it is protected from infringement liability. The district court granted partial summary judgment to FilmOn. The Copyright Office determined that Internet-based retransmission services were not eligible for the compulsory license under section 111. The court deferred to the Office's interpretation because it was persuasive and reasonable. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Aereokiller LLC" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court. Arthur and Barbara Sheridan owned several pre-1972 master sound recordings of certain popular songs, as well as the associated intellectual property and contract rights. iHeartMedia operated AM/FM radio stations, as well as internet radio services. These latter services allow listeners to access and listen to a song through an internet-connected device such as a tablet, computer, or smartphone. iHeartMedia streamed the Sheridans’ recordings to listeners over its internet radio platform, iHeartRadio. It was undisputed that iHeartMedia had no license, authority, or consent from the Sheridans to stream the recordings, and iHeartMedia did not compensate the Sheridans for the use of their recordings. The Sheridans claimed that iHeartMedia needed their consent to transfer their master sound recordings to iHeartRadio listeners, and that iHeartMedia engaged in racketeering activity by making unauthorized transfers. iHeartMedia moved to dismiss the Sheridans’ complaint under the radio broadcast exemption in OCGA 16-8-60 (c) (1), which stated that the statute did not apply to “any person who transfers or causes to be transferred any such sounds or visual images intended for or in connection with radio or television broadcast transmission or related uses." After review, the Supreme Court found that the type of internet radio services being offered by iHeartMedia, Inc. in this case fell under the exemption set forth in OCGA 16-8-60 (c) (l). View "iHeartMedia, Inc. v. Sheridan" on Justia Law

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The court certified the following questions to the California Supreme Court: 1) Under section 980(a)(2) of the California Civil Code, do copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings that were sold to the public before 1982 possess an exclusive right of public performance? 2) If not, does California's common law of property or tort otherwise grant copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings an exclusive right of public performance? View "Flo & Eddie v. Pandora Media" on Justia Law

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TGS, a Houston company requested seismic data from Geophysical, a Canadian company, under Canada's law that requires companies who gather seismic data about the Earth's substructure to submit their findings to the Canadian government. After a period of confidentiality, the Canadian agency that compiled this data was then apparently permitted to release it to members of the public upon specific request. Geophysicial then filed suit against TGS, alleging copyright infringement. The court held that the act of state doctrine does not forbid a United States court from considering the applicability of copyright's first sale doctrine to foreign-made copies when the foreign copier was a government agency. The court also held that the inapplicability of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., to extraterritorial conduct barred a contributory infringement claim based on the domestic authorization of entirely extraterritorial conduct. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Geophysical Service v. TGS-Nopec Geophysical" on Justia Law