Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

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In 1999, Hiller, the largest home-services company in Tennessee, became a paying “member” of Success Group, which offers management advice and customer-service training to home-services companies. Clockwork owned Success, which conducted training courses using manuals copyrighted by Clockwork. Hiller sent its employees to those courses; they had access to the Manuals. In 2014, Clockwork sold Success to Aquila. Clockwork retained ownership of the Manual copyrights but granted Aquila a perpetual license. In 2015, Hiller hired the Pike Group to create the Guide for use in place of the Manuals to train its technicians. Pike had no expertise in the home-services industry; to learn what Hiller wanted, Pike conducted a workshop attended by Hiller employees and representatives of Aquila and Success. The participants referred to at least one of the Manuals.The resulting Guide included some content taken directly from the Manuals. In 2016, Success conducted a class using a workbook that closely resembled the Guide. Hiller ended its Success membership, demanded that Success stop using the workbook, registered its copyright in the Guide, and sued Success for copyright infringement. Clockwork was allowed to intervene.A jury concluded that Hiller had a valid copyright in the Guide and that the Success workbook copied protected elements of the Guide. Clockwork’s request for declaratory relief invalidating Hiller’s copyright was rejected. The Third Circuit affirmed. The jury reasonably concluded that Hiller created enough original material to gain copyright protection and the jury was correctly instructed that the Guide’s incorporation of some Clockwork-copyrighted content did not invalidate Hiller’s copyright in the Guide’s original parts. View "Hiller, LLC v. Success Group International Learning Alliance, LLC" on Justia Law

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Paul Batiste, a local jazz musician, brought a copyright infringement action against the world-famous hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. After the district court found no evidence of copyrighting, it granted summary judgment for defendants and then ordered both Batiste and his attorney to pay defendants' attorneys' fees.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court acted well within its discretion in denying Batiste's motion for leave to supplement his summary-judgment opposition. The court also held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment for defendants on the copyright infringement claims where Batiste failed to produce evidence for a reasonable jury to infer that defendants had access to his music or to find striking similarities between his songs and those of defendants. Therefore, he cannot prove factual copying and his copyright claims fail. The court further held that, given the objective unreasonableness of Batiste's claims, his history of litigation misconduct, and his pattern of filing overaggressive copyright actions, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees to defendants under the Copyright Act. Finally, the court lacked jurisdiction to review Batiste's challenge to the district court's decision to hold his attorney jointly and severally liable for the fee award as a sanction. View "Batiste v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Four Seasons front man Frankie Valli and other defendants associated with Jersey Boys did not infringe Rex Woodard's copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito, now owned by Donna Corbello, Woodard's surviving wife.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, after a jury trial in favor of defendants, on the sole ground that Jersey Boys did not infringe DeVito's biography, and so the panel did not reach the district court's fair use rationale. The panel rests its decision primarily on the unremarkable proposition that facts, in and of themselves, may not form the basis for a copyright claim. In this case, each of the alleged similarities between the Play and the Work are based on historical facts, common phrases and scenes-a-faire, or elements that were treated as facts in the Work and are thus unprotected by copyright, even though now challenged as fictional. The panel explained that neither Valli nor the other defendants violated Corbello's copyright by depicting in the Play events in their own lives that are also documented in the Work. Therefore, because the Play did not copy any protected elements of the Work, there was no copyright infringement. View "Corbello v. Vallli" on Justia Law

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Carrier manufactures residential Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. ECIMOS produced the quality-control system that tested completed HVAC units at the end of Carrier’s assembly line. ECIMOS alleged that Carrier infringed on its copyright on its database-script source code—a part of ECIMOS’s software that stores test results. ECIMOS alleges that Carrier improperly used the database and copied certain aspects of the code to aid a third-party’s development of new testing software that Carrier now employs in its Collierville, Tennessee manufacturing facility.ECIMOS won a $7.5 million jury award. The court reduced Carrier’s total damages liability to $6,782,800; enjoined Carrier from using its new database, but stayed the injunction until Carrier could develop a new, non-infringing database subject to the supervision of a special master; and enjoined Carrier from disclosing ECIMOS’s trade secrets while holding that certain elements of ECIMOS’s system were not protectable as trade secrets (such as ECIMOS’s assembled hardware). The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. There are sufficient reasons to conclude that Carrier did infringe on ECIMOS’s copyright, but Carrier’s liability to ECIMOS based on its copyright infringement and its breach of contract can total no more than $5,566,050. The district court did not err when it crafted its post-trial injunctions. View "ECIMOS, LLC v. Carrier Corp." on Justia Law

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Oracle, owner of the proprietary Solaris software operating system, filed suit alleging that HPE improperly accessed, downloaded, copied, and installed Solaris patches on servers not under an Oracle support contract. Oracle asserted direct copyright infringement claims for HPE's direct support customers, and indirect infringement claims for joint HPE-Terix customers. The district court granted summary judgment for HPE.The Ninth Circuit held that the copyright infringement claim is subject to the Copyright Act's three year statute of limitations, which runs separately for each violation. The panel explained that Oracle's constructive knowledge triggered the statute of limitations and Oracle failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into the suspected infringement. The panel also held that the intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claim is barred by California's two year statute of limitations. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's partial summary judgment for HPE on the infringement and intentional interference claims. The panel also affirmed in part summary judgment on the indirect infringement claims for patch installations by Terix; reversed summary judgment on all infringement claims for pre-installation conduct and on the direct infringement claims for unauthorized patch installations by HPE; and addressed all other issues in a concurrently filed memorandum opinion. View "Oracle America, Inc. v. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Curtis James Jackson III, the hip-hop recording artist known as 50 Cent, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant William Leonard Roberts II, the hip-hop recording artist known as Rick Ross, on the grounds that Jackson's claim of violation of the Connecticut common law right of publicity is preempted by the Copyright Act. The complaint alleged that, on the mixtape entitled Renzel Remixes, Roberts' use of Jackson's voice performing "In Da Club," as well as of Jackson's stage name in the track title identifying that song, violated Jackson's right of publicity under Connecticut common law.The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that Jackson's claim is preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption. In this case, Jackson's Connecticut right of publicity claim does not seek to vindicate any substantial state interests distinct from those furthered by the copyright law, and the policy considerations justifying the doctrine of implied preemption prevail.In the alternative, the court held that Jackson's claim as to the use of his voice on the mixtape is preempted by the express terms of section 301 of the Copyright Act. The court explained that the gravamen of Jackson's right of publicity claim, to the extent it is based on the use of the "In Da Club" sample, is not the use of his identity but rather the use of the copyrighted work itself, and that the focus of his claim therefore comes within the subject matter of copyright. Furthermore, to the extent that Jackson's right of publicity claim is based on the reproduction of a copyrighted work embodying Jackson's voice, that claim is preempted by section 301 because (1) its focus is Roberts' use of a work that falls within the "subject matter of copyright" and (2) it asserts rights that are sufficiently equivalent to the rights protected by federal copyright law. View "Jackson v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a lower grandfathered royalty rate is paid by some music services that were early providers of digital music transmissions. Music Choice, a digital broadcast music service that consists of several cable television channels, challenges the Board's final determination, which excludes Music Choice's internet transmissions from the grandfathered rate and also adopts more stringent audit requirements.The DC Circuit held that the Board's categorical exclusion of Music Choice's internet transmissions from the grandfathered rate conflicts with the unambiguous language of the DMCA. The court explained that, pursuant to the DMCA, Music Choice's internet transmissions are eligible for the grandfathered rate to the extent they were part of its service offering on July 31, 1998. However, the Board retains discretion to determine whether parts of Music Choice's current service offering, which includes mobile applications and internet-exclusive channels, should be excluded from the grandfathered rate. The court also held that the Board acted arbitrarily and capriciously in altering the audit standards applicable to Music Choice. Therefore, the court vacated the relevant parts of the final determination, remanding for the Board to determine whether Music Choice's internet transmissions qualified for the grandfathered rate and to reconsider the amended audit procedure. View "Music Choice v. Copyright Royalty Board" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's third amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), alleging that defendants violated the Copyright Act by copying creative aspects from his unreleased science fiction videogame, including his use of a tardigrade -- a microscopic animal -- traveling in space, in their television series Star Trek: Discovery.Even assuming that actual copying occurred, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege substantial similarity between protectible elements of his videogame and elements from Discovery. The court explained that, overall, the presence of Ripper the tardigrade in Discovery is minimal, as it only appears in three episodes. Therefore, after extracting the unprotectible elements from plaintiff's videogame -- the scientific facts, general ideas, science fiction themes constituting scènes à faire, and generalized character traits -- the court held that the videogame and Discovery are not substantially similar because the protectible elements are markedly different. View "Anas Osama Ibrahim Abdin v. CBS Broadcasting Inc." on Justia Law

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MPAY, a Massachusetts corporation that develops and owns payroll-processing software that it licenses to its customers, appealed the district court's denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction against appellees. MPAY claimed that it was entitled to such relief based on its copyright-infringement and trade-secrets-misappropriation claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding that appellees demonstrated that their copying, disclosure, and possession of the source code were authorized by the Software Development and License Agreement that MPAY signed with its business partner. Therefore, MPAY has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its copyright infringement or trade-secrets-misappropriation claims, and the district court did not err in so concluding. The court also held that MPAY's assertion, that the district court erroneously concluded MPAY's harms were compensable with money damages and so were not irreparable, lacked merit. Furthermore, the balance of the equities and the public interest do not favor an injunction. The court remanded for further proceedings on the question of whether the contractors wrongfully sublicensed use of the software. View "MPAY Inc. v. Erie Custom Computer Applications, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against BuzzFeed for using one of his photographs without crediting him in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The district court awarded plaintiff statutory damages. BuzzFeed appealed, arguing that it did not know its conduct would lead to future, third-party copyright infringement.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's award of statutory damages and held that the plain language of the DMCA does not require plaintiff to prove that BuzzFeed knew its actions would lead to future, third-party infringement. In this case, the district court correctly applied the DMCA by finding that Buzzfeed, through its own journalist, distributed the photo knowing that plaintiff's gutter credit had been removed or altered without his permission and distributed the photo with a gutter credit reading "Fisher & Taubenfeld" knowing that doing so would conceal the fact that a BuzzFeed journalist did not have authority to use the photo. View "Mango v. Buzzfeed, Inc." on Justia Law