Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment after a jury trial and award of attorneys' fees in favor of Unicolors in a copyright infringement action against H&M, where Unicolors alleged that a design it created in 2011 is remarkably similar to a design printed on garments that H&M began selling in 2015. The panel held that courts may not consider in the first instance whether the Register of Copyrights would have refused registration due to the inclusion of known inaccuracies in a registration application. In this case the district court erred by imposing an intent-to-defraud requirement for registration invalidation and erred in concluding that Unicolors’s application for copyright registration did not contain inaccuracies despite the inclusion of confined designs. The panel held that the plain meaning of "single unit" in 37 C.F.R. 202.3(b)(4)(i)(A) requires that the registrant first published the collection of works in a singular, bundled collection. The panel explained that it is an inaccuracy for a registrant like Unicolors to register a collection of works as a single-unit publication when the works were not initially published as a singular, bundled collection. Furthermore, the undisputed evidence adduced at trial further shows that H&M included the inaccurate information "with knowledge that it was inaccurate." Therefore, the panel remanded to the district court with instructions to submit an inquiry to the Register of Copyrights asking whether the known inaccuracies contained in the '400 Registration application, if known to the Register of Copyrights, would have caused it to refuse registration. View "Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP" on Justia Law
Compulife Software Inc. v. Newman
Compulife Software, which has developed and markets a computerized mechanism for calculating, organizing, and comparing life-insurance quotes, alleges that one of its competitors lied and hacked its way into Compulife's system and stole its proprietary data. At issue was whether defendants crossed any legal lines—and, in particular, whether they infringed Compulife's copyright or misappropriated its trade secrets, engaged in false advertising, or violated an anti-hacking statute. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the judgment as to copyright infringement and trade-secret misappropriation, remanding for new findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court held that the magistrate judge committed errors of law and made insufficient findings, which tainted his conclusion that Compulife's copyright was not infringed. The court also held that the magistrate judge erred in his analysis of trade-secret misappropriation, both by failing to consider the application of several species of misappropriation and by committing legal error. The court found no reversible error in the magistrate judge's rejection of Compulife's other claims, affirming the remainder of the judgment. View "Compulife Software Inc. v. Newman" on Justia Law
Enchant Christmas Light Maze & Market, Inc. v. Glowco LLC
Enchant produces a holiday-themed light show, which it exhibits across the U.S. and Canada. “Enchant Christmas,” features large three-dimensional sculptures fitted with lights, including sculptures of polar bears, deer, and ice crystals. Enchant obtained copyright registrations for several sculptures. Wallain worked with Enchant and had access to design files used to construct Enchant’s light sculptures. Wallain and Glowco discussed producing an Enchant Christmas light show in Nashville. The parties could not strike an agreement. Wallain and Glowco decided to pursue a Nashville light show without Enchant, purchased some sculptures from Enchant, and solicited manufacturers in China to produce additional light sculptures. Wallain sent two-dimensional images of Enchant’s sculptures, obtained from Enchant’s files, to solicit bids. Enchant sued, alleging copyright infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and violation of the Tennessee Personal and Commercial Computer Act. The district court concluded, after comparing the designs of the disputed sculptures, that any copyright-protected interest in Enchant’s sculptures was “very thin” and that numerous differences between the sculptures would be clear to an ordinary observer. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Qualities of Enchant’s sculptures that are inherent in the chosen subject—animal sculpture—are not subject to copyright protection. To the extent that Enchant’s sculptures contained some original work warranting protection, Enchant had "thin copyright at best." Most of the similarities identified by Enchant are inherent to the subject matter, including animal features and naturally occurring poses. View "Enchant Christmas Light Maze & Market, Inc. v. Glowco LLC" on Justia Law
Lanard Toys Ltd. v. Dolgencorp LLC
Lanard owns Design Patent D167 and the 458 copyright for a work entitled “Pencil/Chalk Holder,” relating to a toy chalk holder designed to look like a pencil. Lanard sold the Chalk Pencil, marked to indicate Lanard’s copyright and patent protections, to national retailers. Ja-Ru designed a toy chalk holder, using the Chalk Pencil as a reference sample. Lanard’s retailers stopped ordering the Chalk Pencil and began ordering Ja-Ru’s product. Lanard sued, asserting copyright infringement, design patent infringement, trade dress infringement, and statutory and common law unfair competition. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment that Ja-Ru’s product does not infringe the patent, that the copyright is invalid and alternatively not infringed, and that Ja-Ru’s product does not infringe Lanard’s trade dress. Lanard’s unfair competition claims failed because its other claims failed. The district court properly construed the claims commensurate with the statutory protection for an ornamental design. Lanard impermissibly seeks to exclude any chalk holder in the shape of a pencil and extend the scope of the patent beyond the “new, original and ornamental design,” 35 U.S.C. 171. Lanard’s copyright is for the chalk holder itself; Lanard’s arguments seek protection for the dimensions and shape of the useful article itself. Because the chalk holder itself is not copyright protectable, Lanard cannot demonstrate that it holds a valid copyright. Lanard cannot establish that the Chalk Pencil has acquired secondary meaning. View "Lanard Toys Ltd. v. Dolgencorp LLC" on Justia Law
Doc’s Dream, LLC v. Dolores Press, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Dolores' motion for recovery of attorney's fees under the Copyright Act. The district court had granted summary judgment for Dolores on Doc's Dream's complaint seeking a declaration that the late religious leader Dr. Eugene Scott completely abandoned his works to the public domain. The district court then denied Dolores' motion for attorney fees under 17 U.S.C. 505. The panel held that, even when asserted as a claim for declaratory relief, any action that turns on the existence of a valid copyright and whether that copyright has been infringed invokes the Copyright Act. Therefore, attorney's fees may be available under section 505 of the Copyright Act. View "Doc's Dream, LLC v. Dolores Press, Inc." on Justia Law
Sohm v. Scholastic Inc.
Plaintiff and Visions of America filed suit against Scholastic, alleging copyright infringement on 89 photographs plaintiff had authored. The district court determined that Scholastic had infringed six of the photographs and dismissed the remaining claims. The DC Circuit held that the district court properly recited the elements of a copyright infringement claim and placed the burden of proof on plaintiff to demonstrate that Scholastic's use of his images was outside the scope of the license; Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 572 U.S. 663 (2014), did not abrogate this Circuit's adoption of the "discovery rule" for copyright infringement claim accrual in Psihoyos v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 748 F.3d 120 (2d Cir. 2014); the Copyright Act limits damages to the three years prior to when a copyright infringement action is filed; and the registration of a compilation of photographs under 17 U.S.C. 409 by an applicant who holds the rights to the component works is valid and effectively registers the underlying individual photos, even if the compilation does not list the individual authors of the individual photos. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part, remanding for further proceedings. View "Sohm v. Scholastic Inc." on Justia Law
Everly v. Everly
In 1960, the Everly Brothers (Don and Phil) recorded, released, and copyrighted "Cathy’s Clown" and two other songs (the Compositions), granting the copyrights to Acuff-Rose. The original copyrights listed Phil and Don as authors; both received royalties. They were both credited as authors of Cathy’s Clown in 1961 and 1975 awards. They took joint credit for authoring the song in a 1972 television interview. In a 1980 “Release and Assignment,” Phil agreed to release to Don all of his rights to the Compositions, including “every claim of every nature by him as to the compositions of said songs.” Don subsequently received all royalty payments and public credit as the author; Acuff-Rose changed its business records to reflect Don as sole author. Licenses and credits for Cathy’s Clown and a 1988 copyright renewal listed Don as the only author. Both brothers nonetheless made public statements continuing to credit Phil as a co-author. In 2011, Don sought to execute his 17 U.S.C. 304(c) right to termination to regain copyright ownership from Acuff-Rose, claiming exclusive copyright ownership. Phil exercised termination rights as to other compositions, in 2007 and 2012, but never attempted to terminate any grant related to the 1960 Compositions. After Phil’s 2014 death, his children filed notices of termination as to the 1960 Grants, seeking to regain Phil’s rights to Cathy’s Clown. In 2016, they served a notice of termination as to Phil’s 1980 Assignment to Don. The district court granted Don summary judgment, finding that the claim of Phil’s co-authorship was barred by the statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding a genuine factual dispute as to whether Don expressly repudiated Phil’s co-authorship, and thus triggered the statute of limitations, no later than 2011. View "Everly v. Everly" on Justia Law
Georgia v. Public Resource.Org, Inc.
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) includes the text of every Georgia statute currently in force. Non-binding annotations appear beneath each statutory provision, typically including summaries of judicial opinions construing each provision, summaries of pertinent attorney general opinions, and a list of related law review articles and other reference materials. The OCGA is assembled by the Code Revision Commission, a state entity composed mostly of legislators, funded through legislative branch appropriations, and staffed by the Office of Legislative Counsel. The current OCGA annotations were produced by a private publisher, pursuant to a work-for-hire agreement, which states that any copyright in the OCGA vests in the state, acting through the Commission. A nonprofit, dedicated to facilitating public access to government records and legal materials, posted the OCGA online and distributed copies. The Commission sued for infringement under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 102(a). The Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court held that OCGA annotations are ineligible for copyright protection. Under the government edicts doctrine, officials empowered to speak with the force of law cannot be the authors of the works they create in the course of their official duties. The Court noted long-standing precedent that an official reporter cannot hold a copyright interest in opinions created by judges; no one can own the law. The doctrine applies to whatever work legislators perform in their capacity as legislators, including explanatory and procedural materials they create in the discharge of their legislative duties. The sole “author” of the annotations is the Commission, which functions as an arm of the Georgia Legislature and creates the annotations in the discharge of its legislative duties. The Court focused on authorship, stating that Georgia’s characterization of the OCGA annotations as non-binding and non-authoritative undersells the practical significance of the annotations to litigants and citizens. View "Georgia v. Public Resource.Org, Inc." on Justia Law
Infogroup, Inc. v. DatabaseUSA.com LLC
The Eighth Circuit affirmed judgments against DatabaseUSA for copyright infringement and Vinod Gupta for breach of contract. After Gupta founded Infogroup, he and the company entered a separation agreement. Then Gupta found DatabaseUSA two years later. The court held that a reasonable juror, based on the evidence at trial, could have found Infogroup owned a valid copyright; a reasonable juror could have concluded that DatabaseUSA copied the original elements of Infogroup's work; and, because of spoliation, DatabaseUSA's two arguments against copying fail. Finally, the court affirmed the $11.2 million award for the copyright infringement claim and the $10 million award for the breach of contract claim. View "Infogroup, Inc. v. DatabaseUSA.com LLC" on Justia Law
Webster v. Guitars
Plaintiff, a successful guitar maker and technician, designed a lightning storm graphic that originally appeared on the guitar of Darrell Abbott, late guitarist of the heavy-metal band Pantera. This copyright registration action relates to the lightning storm graphic. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant and several others, alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition, and false endorsement. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, holding that the district court properly concluded that plaintiff's copyright claim, primarily concerning copyright ownership, was time-barred; the district court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff's false advertising and unfair competition claims because the statements he relies on were not false or misleading; and the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff's false endorsement claim, because plaintiff failed to establish a likelihood of consumer confusion, mistake, or deception. View "Webster v. Guitars" on Justia Law