Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
Perea v. Editorial Cultural, Inc.
In these cross-appeals, the First Circuit vacated the district court's opinion and order entered on September 30, 2017 and part of the amended judgment entered on September 19, 2019 and directed the entry of an amended judgment in favor of a playwright on his claim of copyright infringement, holding that the district court erred.At issue was whether Editorial Cultural, Inc. was liable for copyright infringement after it printed and sold 20,000 copies of the theatrical adaptations of two novels written by Puerto Rico author Enrique Laguerre. Plaintiffs - Laguerre's heirs and Roberto Ramos Perea, the playwright who adopted the novels for the stage - sued Editorial Cultural, claiming that Ramos owned the copyrights to both adaptations and that Editorial Cultural infringed those copyrights. The district court dismissed Ramos as the copyright owner and entered judgment against Editorial Cultural, awarding damages to Laguerre's heirs. The First Circuit eliminated Ramos as the copyright owner and awarded damages to Laguerre's heirs. The First Circuit directed the entry of amended judgment in favor of Ramos, holding that the district court erred in concluding that Laguerre retained the right to print the adaptations at issue here. View "Perea v. Editorial Cultural, Inc." on Justia Law
Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC
The Ninth Circuit wrote to clarify the role that de minimis copying plays in statutory copyright. The de minimis concept is properly used to analyze whether so little of a copyrighted work has been copied that the allegedly infringing work is not substantially similar to the copyrighted work and is thus non-infringing. However, once infringement is established, that is, ownership and violation of one of the exclusive rights in copyright under 17 U.S.C. 106, de minimis use of the infringing work is not a defense to an infringement action.The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants based on a putative de minimis use defense in a copyright case involving plaintiff's photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. The panel applied the Perfect 10 server test, concluding that Wilmott's server was continuously transmitting the image to those who used the specific pinpoint address or were conducting reverse image searches using the same or similar photo. Therefore, Wilmott transmitted and displayed the photo without plaintiff's permission. Furthermore, Wilmott's display was public by virtue of the way it operated its servers and its website. The panel also concluded that the "degree of copying" was total because the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted Indianapolis photo. Accordingly, there is no place for an inquiry as to whether there was de minimis copying. On remand, the district court must consider Wilmott's remaining defenses, and it can address the questions surrounding plaintiff's ownership of the Indianapolis photo, in addition to the other defenses raised by Wilmott. View "Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC" on Justia Law
Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc.
When an AM/FM radio station plays a song over the air, it does not pay public performance royalties to the owner of the original sound recording. Digital and satellite radio providers like Sirius, however, must pay public performance royalties whenever they broadcast post-1972 music. Before a 2018 amendment to the copyright law, 17 U.S.C. 1401(b), they did not have to pay royalties for playing pre-1972 music under federal law. State law was less clear.The district court held that California law, which grants copyright owners an “exclusive ownership” to the music, creates a right of public performance for owners of pre-1972 sound recordings and that Sirius must pay for playing pre-1972 music. The Ninth Circuit reversed, looking to the common law in the 19th century when California first used the phrase “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute. At that time, no state had recognized a right of public performance for music, and California protected only unpublished works. Nothing suggests that California upended this deeply-rooted common-law understanding of copyright protection when it used the word “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute in 1872, so “exclusive ownership” does not include the right of public performance. View "Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law
Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Thomson Sailors Homes, LLC
Designworks filed suit alleging that defendants violated its copyright in the registered design of a two-story home. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, concluding that defendants' home design was not a copy of the original Designworks home.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in granting defendants' motion for summary judgment because the works were so dissimilar that reasonable minds could not differ as to the absence of substantial similarity in expression in the designs. The court explained that there was no direct evidence of copyright infringement and there was no evidence of a substantial similarity of expression in the designs. In this case, the district court's order emphasized how unreasonable Designworks' litigating position had been, from completely failing to address the "significant objective differences" between the designs to producing nothing more than speculative evidence that anyone associated with defendants had accessed the Designworks house. The court also affirmed the district court's award of attorneys' fees and costs to defendants. View "Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Thomson Sailors Homes, LLC" on Justia Law
Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Columbia House of Brokers Realty, Inc.
Charles James and Designworks filed suit against real estate companies, as well as their affiliates and agents, claiming that defendants infringed their copyrights when they created and published certain floorplans without authorization. The district court granted defendants summary judgment on the infringement claims, as well as on plaintiffs' claims for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.The Eighth Circuit held that the copyright statute, 17 U.S.C. 120(a), does not provide a defense to a claim of infringement for real estate companies, their agents, and their contractors when they generate and publish floorplans of homes they list for sale. The court reasoned that the terms Congress used in section 120(a) have a certain quality in common—they all connote artistic expression. The court explained that floorplans, like the ones here, serve a functional purpose. The court noted that its decision does not preclude the district court on remand from considering whether some other defense might apply or whether plaintiffs have demonstrated a claim of copyright infringement in the first place. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grants of summary judgment to defendants on the primary infringement claim as well as on the claims for contributory and vicarious infringement, vacated the district court's orders awarding defendants costs and attorney's fees, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Columbia House of Brokers Realty, Inc." on Justia Law
Di Angelo Publications, Inc. v. Kelley
Kelley wanted to publish “Hooker to Looker,” to promote her cosmetics business. Di Angelo agreed to publish and distribute Kelley’s then-unwritten Book, with Kelly receiving 50 percent of the net royalties. Kelley provided Di Angelo with a three-page manuscript, detailing her background and outlining the Book’s topics. Di Angelo claims it wrote the Book while “communicating and/or collaborating with Kelley.” The Book Di Angelo distributed lists only Kelley as the copyright holder. Di Angelo sold the initial 1,000-copy print run. Kelley asked Di Angelo for an updated version. Di Angelo alleges that it prepared the updated work, then discovered that Kelley was attempting to work directly with Di Angelo’s printer, in violation of the contract.Kelley sued, claiming that Di Angelo overcharged her and alleging that she “is the sole owner of all copyrights.” Di Angelo counterclaimed for breach of contract. That state court action is pending. Di Angelo filed a federal suit, seeking a declaration that it owns the copyrights. Kelley challenged federal jurisdiction, arguing the claim was premised solely on her alleged breach of the contract, a controversy governed by Texas law. Di Angelo claimed resolution of the authorship dispute required interpretation of federal copyright law, including the definitional and ownership provisions in 17 U.S.C. 101 & 201, which the state court lacks jurisdiction to address. The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Di Angelo’s claim necessarily implicates federal law definitions of “Initial ownership” and “Works made for hire.” View "Di Angelo Publications, Inc. v. Kelley" on Justia Law
Gilkyson v. Disney Enterprises, Inc.
A jury awarded plaintiffs, the adult children and heirs of songwriter Terry Gilkyson, $350,000 based on its finding that Disney, and its music publishing subsidiary Wonderland, had failed to pay contractually required royalties in connection with certain limited uses of "The Bare Necessities" and several other Gilkyson-composed songs in home entertainment releases of Walt Disney Productions's 1967 animated film The Jungle Book. The trial court then awarded an additional $699,316.40 as damages for the period subsequent to the jury's verdict through the duration of the songs’ copyrights. Both parties appealed.The Court of Appeal agreed with Disney that interpretation of its agreements with Gilkyson is subject to de novo review; Gilkyson's right to receive royalties from exploitation of the mechanical reproduction rights in "The Bare Necessities" and other songs he wrote for The Jungle Book was dependent on Wonderland receiving payment for such exploitation; and the express language of the contracts granted Disney sole discretion to decide how to exploit the material, including whether a fee should be charged for Disney's own use of the material in home entertainment releases. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions to enter a judgment in favor of Disney. View "Gilkyson v. Disney Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Jim Olive Photography v. University of Houston System
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that "a governmental unit's copyright infringement is not a taking" and that, therefore, the trial court erred in denying a plea to the jurisdiction, holding that the violation of a copyright, without more, is not a taking of the copyright.Plaintiff, a professional photographer, sued the University of Houston, alleging that the University's publication of his photograph was an unlawful taking. The University filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting immunity under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. After the trial court denied the plea, the University brought this interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals vacated the trial court's order denying the plea and dismissed the cause for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that a governmental unit's copyright infringement is not a taking. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) factual allegations of an infringement do not alone allege a taking; and (2) the court of appeals did not err in sustaining the jurisdictional plea and dismissing the case because the State retained its immunity in the absence of a properly pled takings claim. View "Jim Olive Photography v. University of Houston System" on Justia Law
Design Basics, LLC v. Kerstiens Homes & Designs, Inc
The Kerstiens family runs companies that build single-family homes out of Jasper, Indiana. Plan Pros and Prime Designs are home design companies that license their plans through Design Basics, which acts as a broker, serving as an intermediary between home builders and design firms. Design Basics markets the thousands of plans it holds copyrights to through trade publications, promotional materials placed in home improvement stores, and national builder associations and “has become a serial litigant,” having filed more than 100 infringement suits against home builders.In affirming the dismissal of Design Basic’s suit against the Kerstiens, the Seventh Circuit referred to “intellectual property trolls,” enforcing copyrights not to protect expression, but to extract payments through litigation. Design Basics has thin copyright in its plans because they consist largely of standard features found in homes across America. View "Design Basics, LLC v. Kerstiens Homes & Designs, Inc" on Justia Law
Markham Concepts, Inc. v. Hasbro, Inc.
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the board game "The Game of Life" qualified as a "work for hire" under the Copyright Act of 1909.This case stemmed from a dispute between Rueben Klamer, a toy developer who came up with the initial concept of the game before it was introduced in 1960 by the Milton Bradley Company, and Bill Markham, a game designer that Klamer recruited to design and create the actual game prototype. Markham's successors-in-interest sued Klamer and other defendants seeking a declaration that they possessed "termination rights" under the 1976 Copyright Act. Termination rights, however, do not extend to "work[s] made for hire." The district court concluded that the game was a work for hire, and therefore, Markham's successors-in-interest lacked termination rights. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the game was a work for hire and that no termination rights existed. View "Markham Concepts, Inc. v. Hasbro, Inc." on Justia Law