Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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A 2019 Arizona statute prohibits auto dealer management system (DMS) providers from “tak[ing] any action by contract, technical means or otherwise to prohibit or limit a dealer’s ability to protect, store, copy, share or use” data the dealer has stored in its DMS. DMS providers may not impose charges “beyond any direct costs incurred” for database access. DMS providers may not prohibit the third parties contracted by the dealers “from integrating into the dealer’s data system,” nor may they otherwise “plac[e] an unreasonable restriction on integration.” DMS providers must “[a]dopt and make available a standardized framework for the exchange, integration, and sharing of data” with authorized integrators.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against the statute’s enforcement. There is no conflict preemption; the statute and the federal Copyright Act are not irreconcilable. The statute does not conflict with 17 U.S.C. 106(1), which grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” The plaintiffs forfeited their claim that the statute impaired their contracts with third-party vendors and did not show that the statute impaired their ability to discharge their contractual duty to keep dealer data confidential. The statute was reasonably drawn to serve important public purposes of promoting consumer data privacy and competition and amounted to neither a per se physical taking nor a regulatory taking. View "CDK Global LLC v. Brnovich" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that, for Copyright Act purposes, the screenwriter Victor Miller was an independent contractor of the film production company Manny, Inc., in 1979, when Miller wrote the screenplay for the landmark horror film Friday the 13th, released in 1980. Manny argues primarily that Miller's membership in the Writers' Guild of America, East, Inc. (WGA), and Manny's participation in the producers' collective bargaining agreement with the WGA in the same period establish that Miller was Manny's employee for Copyright Act purposes.The court concluded that copyright law, not labor law, controls the "work for hire" determination here. The court explained that because the definition of "employee" under copyright law is grounded in the common law of agency and the Reid framework and serves different purposes than do the labor law concepts regarding employment relationships, there is no sound basis for using labor law to override copyright law goals. Furthermore, there was no error in the district court's refusal to treat Miller's WGA membership as a separate Reid factor. The court applied the Reid factors and concluded that Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay and is therefore entitled to authorship rights. The court also concluded that the notice of termination that Miller gave under section 203 of the Copyright Act is effective as to Manny and its successors. The court found that the Companies' remaining arguments did not provide a basis for reversal and thus affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Miller. View "Horror Inc. v. Miller" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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