Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
Tresóna Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Ass’n
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, a licensing company, alleging that the Burbank High School student show choirs failed to obtain licenses for their use of copyrighted sheet music in arranging a show choir performance. The panel held that plaintiff lacked standing to sue as to three of the four musical works at issue, and that the defense of fair use rendered the use of the fourth work noninfringing. In regard to the three works, plaintiff received its interests in the three songs from individual co-owners of copyright, without the consent of the other co-owners, and therefore held only nonexclusive licenses in those works. The panel held that the use of the fourth work was a fair use in light of the limited and transformative nature of the use and the work's nonprofit educational purposes in enhancing the educational experience of high school students. Finally, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion in denying defendants' motion for attorneys' fees under 17 U.S.C. 505, and remanded for the calculation of the award. View "Tresóna Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Ass'n" on Justia Law
Allen v. Cooper
In 1996, Intersal, a marine salvage company, discovered the shipwreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge off the North Carolina coast. North Carolina, the shipwreck’s legal owner, contracted with Intersal to conduct recovery. Intersal hired videographer Allen to document the efforts. Allen recorded the recovery for years. He registered copyrights in all of his works. When North Carolina published some of Allen’s videos and photos online, Allen sued for copyright infringement, arguing that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA, 17 U.S.C. 511(a)) removed the states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases. The Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit, ruling in favor of North Carolina. Congress lacked the authority to abrogate the states’ immunity from copyright infringement suits in the CRCA. A federal court may not hear a suit brought by any person against a nonconsenting state unless Congress has enacted “unequivocal statutory language” abrogating the states’ immunity from suit and some constitutional provision allows Congress to have thus encroached on the states’ sovereignty. Under existing precedent, neither the Intellectual Property Clause, Art. I, section 8, cl. 8, nor Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress to “enforce” the commands of the Due Process Clause, provides that authority. View "Allen v. Cooper" on Justia Law
Daniels v. The Walt Disney Co.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action alleging copyright infringement by the Disney movie Inside Out of plaintiffs' characters called The Moodsters. After plaintiff developed The Moodsters, anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions, she pitched to entertainment and toy companies around the country, including The Walt Disney Company. The panel held that, under DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. 2015), lightly sketched characters such as The Moodsters, which lack consistent, identifiable character traits and attributes, do not enjoy copyright protection. Furthermore, under Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broad. Sys., 216 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1954), The Moodsters are chessman in the game of telling the story. In this case, the panel applied the alternative "story being told" test and held that The Moodsters as an ensemble are no more copyrightable than the individual characters. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claim for an implied-in-fact contract where plaintiff was required under California law to do more than plead a boiler-plate allegation, devoid of any relevant details. View "Daniels v. The Walt Disney Co." on Justia Law
Photographic Illustrators Corp. v. Orgill, Inc.
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Orgill, Inc. in this case alleging copyright infringement claims, holding that a copyright licensee given the unrestricted right to grant sublicenses may do so without using express language. Orgill markets and sells Sylvania lightbulbs. At issue was Orgill's use of Photographic Illustrators Corporation (PIC) photos of Sylvania lightbulbs in Orgill's electronic and paper catalogs. PIC and Sylvania had negotiated a license setting forth the scope of Sylvania's permission to use PIC's photographs of Sylvania lightbulbs, but Sylvania did not tell Orgill that Orgill needed to abide by an attribution restriction in Sylvania's license. PIC sued Orgill and other Sylvania dealers and distributors claiming copyright infringement. The district court determined that Orgill had a sublicense from Sylvania to use the photos and rejected PIC's argument that sublicensee of copyrights are ineffective absent language expressly granting permission to use the copyrighted work. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) where a licensor grants to a licensee the unrestricted right to sublicense and permit others to use a copyrighted work, a sublicense may be implied by the conduct of the sublicensor and sublicensee; and (2) a reasonable jury could have found that Sylvania granted an implied sublicense to Orgill. View "Photographic Illustrators Corp. v. Orgill, Inc." on Justia Law
Skidmore v. Zeppelin
The estate of guitarist Randy Wolfe filed suit claiming that Led Zeppelin copied portions of Taurus, a song written by Wolfe and performed by his band Spirit, in Led Zeppelin's opening notes of Stairway to Heaven. The en banc court affirmed the district court's judgment after a jury trial in favor of Led Zeppelin, holding that the 1909 Copyright Act, which does not protect sound recordings, controlled its analysis. In this case, Taurus was an unpublished work registered in 1967. Because the deposit copy defines the four corners of the Taurus copyright, the en banc court held that it was not error for the district court to decline plaintiff's request to play the sound recordings of the Taurus performance that contain further embellishments or to admit the recordings on the issue of substantial similarity. The en banc court also held that plaintiff's complaint on access was moot. The en banc court affirmed the district court's challenged jury instructions; rejected the inverse ratio rule, overruling circuit precedent to the contrary; and held that the district court did not err in its formulation of the originality instructions, or in excluding a selection and arrangement instruction. Finally, the en banc court affirmed the district court with respect to the remaining trial issues and its denial of attorneys' fees and costs to Warner/Chappell. View "Skidmore v. Zeppelin" on Justia Law
Energy Intelligence Group, Inc. v. Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, LP
EIG, publisher of "Oil Daily," filed suit alleging numerous instances of copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) against KA, a boutique investment firm. KA purchased an annual "Oil Daily" subscription for a partner, but the partner routinely shared access with fellow KA employees and other third parties in violation of his subscription agreements and copyright law. The Fifth Circuit held that failure to mitigate is not a complete defense to copyright or DMCA claims for statutory damages; the district court properly denied KA's referral motion; and the district court properly denied KA's post-offer attorney's fees under Rule 68. The court also held that remand was necessary to determine copyright damages because the court could not determine whether the jury intended to award EIG $15,000 per infringed work. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of KA's 17 U.S.C. 411(b) referral motion; vacated the judgment in full and instated an award of $1,062,500 for EIG's DMCA claims. The court remanded as to copyright damages, attorney's fees, and costs, with the clarification that non-prevailing copyright and DMCA defendants may not recover post-offer attorney's fees under Rule 68. View "Energy Intelligence Group, Inc. v. Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, LP" on Justia Law
Southern Credentialing Support Services, LLC v. Hammond Surgical Hospital, LLC
Southern Credentialing filed suit claiming that Hammond's ongoing use of credentialing forms infringed Southern Credentialing's copyrights. The district court granted summary judgment as to the existence of the copyrights and infringement, granting damages, attorney's fees and costs, as well as an injunction barring Hammond from infringing the copyrights. Both parties appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that Southern Credentialing has valid copyrights protecting the selection and arrangement of information in its credentialing forms. The court also held that the district court correctly concluded that Hammond infringed valid copyrights of Southern Credentialing and thus the court affirmed the permanent injunction barring future infringement. The court held that 17 U.S.C. 412 bars statutory damage awards when a defendant violates one of the six exclusive rights of a copyright holder preregistration and violates a different right in the same work after registration. In this case, although Southern Credentialing was unable to obtain statutory damages, it has obtained an injunction that will protect against future infringement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for entry of an amended judgment. View "Southern Credentialing Support Services, LLC v. Hammond Surgical Hospital, LLC" on Justia Law
Great Minds v. Office Depot, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, for failure to state a claim, of an action brought by Great Minds, publisher of math curriculum Eureka Math. The complaint alleged a claim of copyright infringement against Office Depot. The panel held that Office Depot did not itself become a licensee of the "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License" or otherwise infringe Great Minds' copyright by making copies of Eureka Math materials for a profit on behalf of school and school district licensees. In this case, there was no dispute that, if Office Depot were itself a licensee, commercial copying of Great Minds' material would fall outside the scope of the license and infringe Great Minds' copyright; under California law, the school and school district licensees' exercise of their rights under the license through the services provided by Office Depot did not result in Office Depot becoming a licensee; and the district court not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend the complaint. View "Great Minds v. Office Depot, Inc." on Justia Law
Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC v. Willowood, LLC
Syngenta sued Willowood, a Hong Kong company that sells fungicide to its Oregon-based affiliate, for infringement of patents directed to a fungicide compound and its manufacturing processes and infringement of copyrights for detailed product labels that provide directions for use, storage, and disposal, plus first-aid instructions and environmental, physical, and chemical hazard warnings. The district court dismissed the copyright claims as precluded by the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. 135 and granted-in-part Syngenta’s summary judgment motion with respect to patent infringement. After a jury trial, the court entered a defense judgment on the patent claims. The Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, reversed-in-part, and vacated in part. The district court did not provide an adequate analysis of the potential conflict between FIFRA and the Copyright Act. Because FIFRA does not, on its face, require a “me-too” registrant to copy the label of a registered product, FIFRA only conflicts with the Copyright Act to the extent that some particular element of Syngenta’s label is both protected under copyright doctrines and necessary for the expedited approval of Willowood’s generic pesticide. The court erred by imposing a single-entity requirement on the performance of a patented process under 35 U.S.C. 271(g); practicing a patented process abroad does not trigger liability under section 271(g) in the same manner that practicing a patented process domestically does under section 271(a). View "Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC v. Willowood, LLC" on Justia Law
MGA Entertainment, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc.
This lawsuit stemmed from MGA and Mattel's dispute over ownership of the Bratz line of dolls and claims of copyright infringement. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that, under California law, the same suspicions that allowed MGA to request discovery and plead the unclean hands defense in the federal court in 2007 were sufficient to trigger the statute of limitation on its misappropriation of trade secrets claim which was filed in federal court in 2010. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the complaint because it was barred by the statute of limitations. View "MGA Entertainment, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc." on Justia Law