Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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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

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Design Basics is a copyright troll and holds registered copyrights in thousands of floor plans for suburban, single-family tract homes. Its employees trawl the Internet in search of targets for strategic infringement suits of questionable merit, hoping to secure “prompt settlements with defendants who would prefer to pay modest or nuisance settlements rather than be tied up in expensive litigation.” The Seventh Circuit has previously (Lexington Homes) held that Design Basics’ copyright in its floor plans is thin. The designs consist mainly of unprotectable stock elements—a few bedrooms, a kitchen, a great room, etc. Much of their content is dictated by functional considerations and existing design conventions for affordable, suburban, single-family homes. When copyright in an architectural work is thin, only a “strikingly similar” work gives rise to a possible infringement claim.Design Basics sued Signature Construction for copying 10 of its registered floor plans for suburban, single-family homes. The district court granted Signature summary judgment based largely on the reasoning of Lexington Homes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. For this category of claims, only extremely close copying is actionable as unlawful infringement. That standard is not satisfied in this case. View "Design Basics, LLC v. Signature Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Marvic d/b/a Brady-Built Sunrooms (Marvic) and dismissing Cynthia Foss's state law claims, holding that the district court did not err.Foss, a graphic designer, created a brochure for Marvic to use in marketing its sunrooms. Twelve years later, Foss brought a complaint alleging a federal claim for copyright infringement and pendent state law claims. The federal district court entered three separate rulings at issue on appeal: it granted Marvic's motion to dismiss Foss's copyright claim, it denied Foss's motion to withdraw certain statements that the court had deemed admitted, and it granted Marvic's motion for summary judgment on Foss's state law claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion as to the disputed rulings. View "Foss v. Marvic, Inc." on Justia Law

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Oracle owns a copyright in Java SE, a computer platform. Google acquired Android and sought to build a new software platform for mobile devices. To allow millions of programmers familiar with Java to work with its new platform, Google copied roughly 11,500 lines of code from Java SE. The copied lines allow programmers to call upon prewritten computing tasks for use in their own programs. The Federal Circuit held that the copied lines were copyrightable and reversed a jury’s finding of fair use.The Supreme Court reversed. Google’s copying of code lines needed to allow programmers to put their talents to work in a transformative program was fair use as a matter of law. Copyright protection cannot extend to “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery,” 17 U.S.C. 102(b), and a copyright holder may not prevent another from making a “fair use” of a copyrighted work.Assuming that the copied lines can be copyrighted, the Court focused on “fair use.” The “right of trial by jury” does not include the right to have a jury resolve a fair use defense. Unlike other types of code, much of the copied material's value derives from the investment of users (computer programmers) who have learned the system; application of fair use here is unlikely to undermine the general copyright protection for computer programs. The “purpose and character” of this use is transformative. Google copied only about 0.4 percent of the entire program at issue and that was tethered to a valid, transformative, purpose. Google’s new smartphone platform is not a market substitute for Java SE; the copyright holder would benefit from the reimplementation of its interface into a different market. Enforcing the copyright on these facts risks causing creativity-related harms to the public. View "Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on its complaint for a declaratory judgment of fair use and the district court's dismissal of defendant's counterclaim for copyright infringement. This case involves visual art works by Andy Warhol based on a 1981 photograph of the musical artist Prince that was taken by defendant, Lynn Goldsmith, in her studio, and in which she holds copyright.The court concluded that the district court erred in its assessment and application of the fair-use factors and that the works in question do not qualify as fair use as a matter of law. In this case, the court considered each of the four factors and found that each favors defendant. Furthermore, although the factors are not exclusive, the Foundation has not identified any additional relevant considerations unique to this case that the court should take into account. The court likewise concluded that the Prince Series works are substantially similar to the Goldsmith Photograph as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith" on Justia Law

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After a blog operator filed suit against a content aggregator for copyright infringement after the aggregator copied and published the blog's content, the jury ruled in favor of the blog operator. At issue is whether the district court should have allowed the jury to decide whether the aggregator had an implied license to copy and publish the blog's content.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that, although the district court employed a too narrow understanding of an implied license, a jury could not have reasonably inferred that the blog impliedly granted the aggregator a license to copy and publish its content. In this case, the district court erred by granting judgment as a matter of law against the aggregator on its implied-license defense; the district court did not err by instructing the jury that it could consider unregistered articles in its calculation of statutory damages; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the aggregator's motion for a new trial on the basis of the jury's statutory-damages award; the district court did not err by failing to consult with the register of copyrights about the alleged fraud on the copyright office; and the aggregator is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its fair-use defense. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment against the aggregator. View "MidlevelU, Inc. v. ACI Information Group" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command installed copyrighted graphics-rendering software created by German company Bitmanagement onto all computers in the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. No express contract or license agreement authorized the Navy’s actions. In 2016, Bitmanagement filed suit, alleging copyright infringement, 28 U.S.C. 1498(b). The Claims Court found that, while Bitmanagement had established a prima facie case of copyright infringement, the Navy was not liable because it was authorized to make copies by an implied license, arising from the Navy’s purchase of individual licenses to test the software and various agreements between the Navy and the vendor.The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded for the calculation of damages. The Claims Court ended its analysis prematurely by failing to consider whether the Navy complied with the terms of the implied license, which can readily be understood from the parties’ entire course of dealings. The implied license was conditioned on the Navy using a license-tracking software, Flexera, to “FlexWrap” the program and monitor the number of simultaneous users. The Navy failed to effectively FlexWrap the copies it made; Flexera tracking did not occur as contemplated by the implied license. That failure to comply creates liability for infringement. View "Bitmanagement Software GMBH v. United States" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to one count of criminal copyright infringement, the district court sentenced defendant to 46 months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay restitution to the copyright owner, Scientific Games Corporation.After determining that defendant's appeal waiver did not bar defendant's challenge, the Fifth Circuit vacated the restitution order, concluding that the government failed to carry its burden of properly establishing the number of infringing items placed into commerce that defendant was responsible for and the resulting harm to Scientific Games in terms of lost net profit. The court remanded for the district court to reanalyze the government's evidence and to determine the number of counterfeit Life of Luxury (LOL) motherboards actually sold and put into the market to compete with legitimate LOL games and the net profit lost by Scientific Games as a result. The court dismissed defendant's challenge to the imposition of a sentencing enhancement because it is barred by his appeal waiver. View "United States v. Kim" on Justia Law