Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
ELLIOT MCGUCKEN V. PUB OCEAN LIMITED
Plaintiff alleged copyright infringement in the posting by Pub Ocean Ltd. of an article about an ephemeral lake that formed on the desert floor in Death Valley, using twelve of Plaintiff’s photos of the lake without seeking or receiving a license. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendant, based on a fair use defense in an action under the Copyright Act, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that Pub Ocean could not invoke a fair use defense to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim. Under 17 U.S.C. Section 107, in determining whether fair use applies, a court must analyze the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.The court explained that because all four statutory factors pointed unambiguously in the same direction, the court held that the district court erred in failing to grant partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on the fair use issue. View "ELLIOT MCGUCKEN V. PUB OCEAN LIMITED" on Justia Law
LANG VAN, INC. V. VNG CORPORATION
In a prior appeal, the Ninth Circuit vacated a prior dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction and remanded with instructions that Plaintiff be permitted to undertake jurisdictional discovery. On remand, the district court granted defendant VNG Corporation’s renewed motion to dismiss, finding that there was no specific personal jurisdiction in California over VNG, a Vietnamese corporation that released the Zing MP3 mobile music application in the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, for lack of personal jurisdiction, of a copyright infringement suit and remanded for further proceedings. In assessing whether Plaintiff established a prima facie case of jurisdiction, the court analyzed jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), which provides for jurisdiction over foreign defendants that have ample contact with the United States as a whole, but whose contacts are so scattered among states that none of them would have jurisdiction. Under Rule 4(k)(2), the plaintiff must prove: (1) the claim at issue arises from federal law; (2) the defendant is not subject to any state’s courts of general jurisdiction; and (3) invoking jurisdiction upholds due process. The plaintiff has the burden to show the first two prongs, and the burden then shifts to the defendant to show that the application of jurisdiction would be unreasonable. The court concluded that VNG purposefully targeted American companies and their intellectual property. Rejecting VNG’s argument regarding forum non conveniens, the court concluded that venue, in this case, was not proper in Vietnam. View "LANG VAN, INC. V. VNG CORPORATION" on Justia Law
STARZ ENTERTAINMENT, LLC V. MGM DOMESTIC TELEVISION DISTR.
Starz Entertainment LLC (Starz) entered into two licensing agreements with MGM Domestic Television Distribution LLC (MGM). Starz sued MGM in May 2020, asserting 340 claims of direct copyright infringement, 340 claims of contributory copyright infringement, 340 claims of vicarious copyright infringement, one claim of breach of contract, and one claim of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. MGM moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that many of Starz’s copyright infringement claims are barred by the Supreme Court’s decision in Petrella. The district court concluded that Petrella left unaffected the discovery rule—that under the Copyright Act there exists “a three-year damages bar [under Section 507(b)] except when the plaintiff reasonably was not aware of the infringements at the time they occurred.” The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial. The court wrote that generally, a copyright claim accrues when the infringement occurs. The court held that Petrella did not do away with the discovery rule, under which a claim alternatively accrues when the copyright holder knows or reasonably should know that an infringement occurred. The court held that the discovery rule allows copyright holders to recover damages for all infringing acts that occurred before they knew or reasonably should have known of the infringing incidents, and the three-year limitations period runs from the date the claim accrued. The court held that the district court correctly applied the discovery rule, thus Plaintiff was not barred from seeking damages for all acts of infringement. View "STARZ ENTERTAINMENT, LLC V. MGM DOMESTIC TELEVISION DISTR." on Justia Law
Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company
Beatriz Ball, LLC, is a Louisiana company doing business as Beatriz Ball and Beatriz Ball Collection. Barbagallo Company, LLC is a New Jersey company doing business as Pampa Bay. Plaintiff alleged that Pampa Bay has been marketing and distributing products that infringe on Beatriz Ball’s registered copyrights and its unregistered trade dress for its “Organic Pearl” line of tableware. Plaintiff challenged the district court’s conclusions that (1) the company lacked standing under the Copyright Act because the plaintiff did not obtain a valid assignment of its claim, and (2) it failed to establish a protectable trade dress under the Lanham Act. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court erred in its standing determination and that certain errors in its analysis of the trade dress claim require reconsideration by the district court. The court explained that whether Beatriz Ball’s trade dress has acquired secondary meaning is considered a question of fact reviewed on appeal for clear error. Here, the record indicates that the district court clearly erred in analyzing three of the factors: volume of sales, the nature of the use of Organic Pearl trade dress in newspapers and magazines, and the defendant’s intent in copying the trade dress. Ultimately, a visual comparison of Pampa Bay’s products to the Organic Pearl line makes it difficult to deny that there was intent to copy. The designs are not just alike, they are indistinguishable in some cases. Thus, the sum of errors in the district court’s analysis of secondary meaning requires reconsideration of the evidence and overall re-weighing of the factors. View "Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company" on Justia Law
Pyrotechnics Management Inc v. XFX Pyrotechnics LLC
Pyrotechnics manufactures and sells hardware (a control panel and a field module) and software that control fireworks displays under the “FireOne” brand. Since around 1995, Pyrotechnics’s hardware has used a proprietary protocol. Pyrotechnics’s Romanian competitor, fireTEK, reverse-engineered Pyrotechnics’s hardware to learn its communication protocol. In 2018, fireTEK developed a router that could send analog signals to Pyrotechnics’s field module just like those sent by Pyrotechnics’s control panel.; fireTEK promoted its router as a replacement for Pyrotechnics’s control panel. Pyrotechnics filed a seven-page document describing its protocol (Deposit Copy) with the U.S. Copyright Office and received a Certificate of Registration, indicating the copyrighted work is “text.” Pyrotechnics asserts that it submitted the Deposit Copy as “identifying material” for its protocol under 37 C.F.R. 202.20(c)(2)(viii). Pyrotechnics claims the protocol was first published when it was embedded inside its hardware in 1995.Pyrotechnics sued fireTEK for copyright infringement, tortious interference with prospective contractual relations, and unfair competition, 17 U.S.C. 411(a). The district court entered an injunction. The Third Circuit vacated, finding the copyright invalid. Pyrotechnics’s digital message format is an uncopyrightable idea and the individual digital messages described in the Deposit Copy are insufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection. View "Pyrotechnics Management Inc v. XFX Pyrotechnics LLC" on Justia Law
Peretti v. Authentic Brands Group, LLC
Appellants, heirs to the late songwriter and record producer Hugo Peretti, appealed from the district court’s order dismissing Appellants’ action, which sought a declaratory judgment that Appellants had validly terminated a 1983 grant of rights in the copyright to the hit song “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The district court dismissed the action, holding that the grant was not “executed by the author” under Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976 and therefore that Appellants had no statutory right to terminate the grant. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976 applies only to grants executed by the author. While Hugo Peretti’s signature is affixed to the grant document at issue, the interests at issue are the contingent rights held and transferred to the Appellees’ predecessors-in-interest by Peretti’s spouse and children, the grant of which was not and cannot be executed by the author. The court reasoned that while Hugo Peretti’s signature is on the 1983 Assignment, he cannot have executed a grant transferring rights, such as those owned by his family members, that he did not hold. Rather, his signature on the grant document transfers only his own contingent right to the renewal term, while his wife’s and daughters’ signatures transferred their respective contingent rights. Thus, because Hugo Peretti died before his contingent right vested, the rights transferred to Appellee’s predecessors-in-interest were the contingent rights held by his wife and daughter. View "Peretti v. Authentic Brands Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Bimbo Bakeries USA, et al. v. Sycamore, et al.
Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc. (“Bimbo Bakeries”) owned, baked, and sold Grandma Sycamore’s Home-Maid Bread (“Grandma Sycamore’s”). Bimbo Bakeries alleged that United States Bakery (“U.S. Bakery”), a competitor, and Leland Sycamore (“Leland”), the baker who developed the Grandma Sycamore’s recipe, misappropriated its trade secret for making Grandma Sycamore’s. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of U.S. Bakery on a trade dress infringement claim. The parties went to trial on the other two claims, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bimbo Bakeries on both. After the trial, the district court denied U.S. Bakery’s and Leland’s renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law on the trade secrets misappropriation and false advertising claims. The district court did, however, remit the jury’s damages award. All parties appealed. Bimbo Bakeries argued the district court should not have granted U.S. Bakery summary judgment on its trade dress infringement claim and should not have remitted damages for the false advertising claim. U.S. Bakery and Leland argued the district court should have granted their renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, and Leland made additional arguments related to his personal liability. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings because the Court found all of Bimbo Bakeries’ claims failed as a matter of law. View "Bimbo Bakeries USA, et al. v. Sycamore, et al." on Justia Law
Gray v. Hudson
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order vacating the jury's damages award for copyright infringement and granting judgment as a matter of law to Katy Perry and other defendants. Plaintiffs, Christian hip-hop artists, filed suit alleging that a repeating instrumental figure in one of Katy Perry's songs copied a similar ostinato in one of plaintiffs' songs.The panel held that copyright law protects musical works only to the extent that they are original works of authorship. In this case, the trial record compels the panel to conclude that the ostinatos at issue consist entirely of commonplace musical elements, and that the similarities between them do not arise out of an original combination of these elements. Therefore, the jury's verdict finding defendants liable for copyright infringement was unsupported by the evidence. View "Gray v. Hudson" on Justia Law
Bell v. Eagle Mountain Saginaw Independent School District
Plaintiff, a sports psychologist, filed suit against the school district for copyright infringement after the softball team and flag corps at a public high school used their Twitter accounts to post a motivational passage from plaintiff's book, Winning Isn’t Normal.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the school district's motion to dismiss and award of attorney's fees. The court considered the four factors of the fair use doctrine and concluded that even though the nature of the work favors plaintiff, the school's use was in good faith and not for a commercial benefit; the small excerpt from the book was freely accessible to the public; and plaintiff has failed to plausibly allege a substantially adverse impact on a legitimate market for his copyrighted work. The court concluded that "the purpose and character" factor, as well as "the effect of the use" factor, favor the school district. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding attorney's fees to the school district. View "Bell v. Eagle Mountain Saginaw Independent School District" on Justia Law
Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L. P.
Unicolors, the owner of fabric design copyrights, successfully sued H&M for copyright infringement, 17 U.S.C. 411(a). H&M argued that Unicolors knowingly included inaccurate information on its registration application, rendering its registration invalid; Unicolors had filed a single application seeking registration for 31 separate works despite a regulation that provides that a single application may cover multiple works only if they were “included in the same unit of publication.” H&M argued that Unicolors had made some of the designs available for sale exclusively to certain customers while offering the rest to the general public.The Ninth Circuit determined that it did not matter whether Unicolors was aware that it had failed to satisfy the single unit of publication requirement because the safe harbor excused only good-faith mistakes of fact, not law; Unicolors knew the relevant facts.The Supreme Court vacated. Section 411(b) does not distinguish between mistakes of law and mistakes of fact. Under the safe harbor, a certificate of registration is valid, even though it contains inaccurate information if the copyright holder lacked “knowledge that it was inaccurate.” If Unicolors was not aware of the legal requirement that rendered its application inaccurate, it could not have included the inaccurate information “with knowledge that it was inaccurate.” Legislative history indicates that Congress enacted section 411(b) to make it easier for nonlawyers to obtain valid copyright registrations by “eliminating loopholes” that allowed infringers to exploit mistakes in the application process. The Court noted that willful blindness may support a finding of actual knowledge and circumstantial evidence may demonstrate that an applicant was aware of, or willfully blind to, legally inaccurate information. View "Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L. P." on Justia Law