Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
Sony Music Entertainment v. Cox Communications, Incorporated
In this case, Sony Music Entertainment and numerous other record companies and music publishers sued Cox Communications, alleging that Cox's customers used its internet service to infringe their copyrights. The plaintiffs argued that Cox should be held accountable for its customers' copyright infringement. A jury found Cox liable for both willful contributory and vicarious infringement of over 10,000 copyrighted works owned by the plaintiffs and awarded $1 billion in statutory damages.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Cox was not vicariously liable for its customers' copyright infringement because Cox did not profit from its subscribers’ acts of infringement, a legal prerequisite for vicarious liability. However, the court affirmed the jury’s finding of willful contributory infringement because Cox knew of the infringing activity and materially contributed to it.The court vacated the $1 billion damages award and remanded the case for a new trial on damages, holding that the jury’s finding of vicarious liability could have influenced its assessment of statutory damages. The court did not vacate the contributory infringement verdict. View "Sony Music Entertainment v. Cox Communications, Incorporated" on Justia Law
Philpot v. Independent Journal Review
In this case, professional concert photographer Larry Philpot brought a copyright-infringement claim against news website Independent Journal Review (IJR) after IJR used his photograph of musician Ted Nugent in an online article. IJR sought summary judgment, arguing that its use of the photo constituted fair use under the Copyright Act and alternatively arguing that Philpot's copyright registration was invalid. Philpot also sought summary judgment, contending that his registration was valid and that IJR's use was not fair use. The district court granted summary judgment to IJR on fair use grounds and denied Philpot's motion.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the decision. The court held that IJR's use of the photograph did not constitute fair use because it was non-transformative and commercial, and it adversely affected the potential market for the photograph. It also found that Philpot's copyright registration was valid because the photograph was not published before Philpot registered it as an unpublished work. The court concluded that IJR was not entitled to summary judgment on its fair use defense and that Philpot was entitled to summary judgment on the validity of the copyright registration. View "Philpot v. Independent Journal Review" on Justia Law
Ragan v. Berkshire Hathaway Auto, Inc.
Ronald Ragan, Jr. brought a suit against Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, Inc. (BHA) alleging that the company had copied his car dealership customer intake form ("Guest Sheet") without his permission, constituting copyright infringement. The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Ragan held a certificate of registration for the Guest Sheet issued by the United States Copyright Office and asserted that BHA continued to use the form after acquiring a company that had previously copied and used the Guest Sheet. BHA argued that the Guest Sheet was not copyrightable. The district court agreed with BHA and ruled in its favor. On appeal, Ragan argued that the district court erred in finding the Guest Sheet uncopyrightable. The appeals court, however, upheld the district court's decision, ruling that the Guest Sheet lacked the requisite originality to be protected under copyright law. The court found that the Guest Sheet, which contained basic questions and prompts, did not exhibit sufficient creativity, and was designed to record, not convey, information. The court also dismissed Ragan's claim that the district court ignored the statutory presumption of copyright validity granted to the Guest Sheet by the certificate of registration, stating that the copyrightability of the Guest Sheet could be determined by an examination of the Guest Sheet alone. View "Ragan v. Berkshire Hathaway Auto, Inc." on Justia Law
Best Carpet Values, Inc. v. Google LLC
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Best Carpet Values, Inc. and Thomas D. Rutledge initiated a class action lawsuit against Google, LLC. The plaintiffs argued that Google, through its Search App on Android phones, displayed their websites in a way that occupied valuable space for which Google should have paid. They contended that Google received all the benefits of advertising from the use of that space. The plaintiffs made state-law claims for trespass to chattels, implied-in-law contract and unjust enrichment, and violation of California's Unfair Competition Law.The court reviewed questions certified by the district court for interlocutory review. In response to the first question, the court ruled that the website copies displayed on a user's screen should not be protected as chattel, concluding that a cognizable property right did not exist in a website copy. As a result, the plaintiffs’ trespass to chattels claim was dismissed.Addressing the third question, the court held that website owners cannot invoke state law to control how their websites are displayed on a user's screen without being preempted by federal copyright law. The court determined that the manner in which the plaintiffs’ websites were displayed fell within the subject matter of federal copyright law. It also found that the rights asserted by the plaintiffs’ implied-in-law contract and unjust enrichment claim were equivalent to the rights provided by federal copyright law. Thus, the plaintiffs’ state-law claim was preempted by federal copyright law.Given these findings, the court did not address the other certified questions. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in denying Google’s motion to dismiss and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. View "Best Carpet Values, Inc. v. Google LLC" on Justia Law
KYLE HANAGAMI V. EPIC GAMES, INC., ET AL
Choreographer Kyle Hanagami claimed that Epic Games, Inc., the creator of the videogame Fortnite, infringed the copyright of a choreographic work when the company created and sold a virtual animation, known as an “emote,” depicting portions of the registered choreography. The district court dismissed his action under the Copyright Act and remanded for further proceedings on claims of direct and contributory infringement of a choreographic work. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The panel held that, under the “extrinsic test” for assessing substantial similarity, Hanagami plausibly alleged that his choreography and Epic’s emote shared substantial similarities. The panel held that, like other forms of copyrightable material such as music, choreography is composed of various elements that are unprotectable when viewed in isolation. What is protectable is the choreographer’s selection and arrangement of the work’s otherwise unprotectable elements. The panel held that “poses” are not the only relevant element, and a choreographic work also may include body position, body shape, body actions, transitions, use of space, timing, pauses, energy, canon, motif, contrast, and repetition. The panel concluded that Hanagami plausibly alleged that the creative choices he made in selecting and arranging elements of the choreography—the movement of the limbs, movement of the hands and fingers, head and shoulder movement, and tempo—were substantially similar to the choices Epic made in creating the emote. The panel held that the district court also erred in dismissing Hanagami’s claim on the ground that the allegedly copied choreography was “short” and a “small component” of Hanagami’s overall work. View "KYLE HANAGAMI V. EPIC GAMES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
Elliott v. Cartagena, et al.
Plaintiff alleged that he co-created the song “All the Way Up,” but that he has not been properly credited or compensated for his contribution. He filed this action in the district court asserting claims under the Copyright Act, as well as various tort claims. Defendants maintain that Plaintiff assigned away any rights he may have had in the song, but the agreement has never been produced, and the parties disagree about its content and effect. The district court admitted a draft version of the missing agreement as a duplicate, and then granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment without allowing Plaintiff to conduct discovery. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in finding the draft admissible as a duplicate original under Federal Rule of Evidence 1003, but properly admitted the draft as “other evidence of the content” of the original under Rule 1004. The court further held that the district court abused its discretion in denying Plaintiff’s request to conduct discovery prior to the entry of summary judgment and erred in concluding that no genuine dispute of material fact existed based on the current record. View "Elliott v. Cartagena, et al." on Justia Law
Greer v. Moon, et al.
When he discovered his copyrighted book and song online, Plaintiff Russell Greer sent a “takedown notice” to Defendants Joshua Moon and his website Kiwi Farms, requesting the material be removed from the Kiwi Farms site. When Moon refused, Greer sued Defendants for copyright infringement. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding Greer failed to state a claim. On appeal, Greer argued his pro se complaint, construed liberally, adequately “alleged facts demonstrating [Moon and Kiwi Farms] had knowingly induced, encouraged, and materially contributed to direct infringements,” and so “stated a claim for contributory copyright infringement” sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit agreed, reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Greer v. Moon, et al." on Justia Law
Carbon Six Barrels v. Proof Research
Proof Research, Inc. and Carbon Six Barrels, LLC both manufacture carbon-fiber gun barrels. Proof entered the market first and obtained a trademark for the unique appearance of its barrels. When Proof found out that Carbon Six intended to begin manufacturing and selling similar-looking carbon-fiber gun barrels of its own, Proof responded with litigation. However, Proof did not file suit against Carbon Six but rather against McGowen Precision Barrels, LLC, Carbon Six’s sister company. McGowen then initiated separate proceedings to have Proof’s trademark canceled. McGowen was ultimately successful, and Proof’s trademark for its carbon-fiber gun barrels was canceled in 2021. On February 9, 2022, Carbon Six filed this lawsuit against Proof for defamation and violation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act stemming from Proof’s efforts to register, renew, enforce, and defend its previously valid trademark. However, Carbon Six brought its claims after the one-year prescriptive period imposed by Louisiana law had run. On Proof’s motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Carbon Six failed to convince the district court that any of its claims were timely. The district court also held that Carbon Six’s LUTPA claim was legally deficient. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that all actions Carbon Six alleged Proof took were discrete rather than ongoing, and each began and ended more than a year before this lawsuit was filed. Carbon Six’s LUTPA claim is therefore prescribed. The court explained even if Carbon Six could do so, Proof’s attempt to enforce a later-invalidated trademark does not violate LUTPA. View "Carbon Six Barrels v. Proof Research" on Justia Law
Bliss Collection, LLC v. Latham Companies, LLC
In 1999, Latham, McLean, and Vernooy formed Bliss to sell children’s clothing under the name “bella bliss.” In 2003, Shannon left Bliss and started Latham to sell her own children’s clothing under the name “little english.” Bliss’s logo is a lowercase “b” drawn out as if stitched in thread. Bliss has registered trademarks for this logo. Bliss has several designs that it claims as signature looks of the bella bliss brand that have “become famous and widely known and recognized as symbols of unique and high-quality garments.” There has been previous litigation between the parties.In 2020, Bliss filed federal claims for copyright, trademark, and trade dress infringement; false designation of origin and misappropriation of source; and unfair competition. The district court dismissed Bliss’s claims and granted Latham attorney’s fees for defending the copyright claim but found that Bliss filed its action in good faith and that the trademark and trade dress claims were not so “exceptionally meritless” that Latham merited a rare attorney’s fees award under 15 U.S.C. 1117. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Bliss stated claims for federal and state trademark infringement but has not stated a claim for trade dress infringement. The district court did not err in denying attorney’s fees to Latham for defending the trademark and trade dress infringement claims. View "Bliss Collection, LLC v. Latham Companies, LLC" on Justia Law
IMPOSSIBLE FOODS INC. V. IMPOSSIBLE X LLC
Impossible X, now a Texas LLC, is a one-person company run by Joel Runyon, a self-described “digital nomad” who for two years operated his business from San Diego. Impossible X sells apparel, nutritional supplements, diet guides, and a consulting service through its website and various social media channels. Impossible Foods sued Impossible X in federal court in California, seeking a declaration that Impossible Foods’ use of the IMPOSSIBLE mark did not infringe on Impossible X’s trademark rights. The district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that Impossible X was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in California because it previously operated out of California and built its brand and trademarks there, and its activities in California were sufficiently affiliated with the underlying trademark dispute to satisfy the requirements of due process. First, Impossible X purposefully directed its activities toward California and availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities there by building its brand and working to establish trademark rights there. Second, Impossible Foods’ declaratory judgment action arose out of or related to Impossible X’s conduct in California. The panel did not confine its analysis to Impossible X’s trademark enforcement activities, but rather concluded that, to the extent the Federal Circuit follows such an approach for patent declaratory judgments, that approach is not justified in the trademark context. Third, the panel concluded that there was nothing unreasonable about requiring Impossible X to defend a lawsuit based on its trademark building activities in the state that was its headquarters and Runyon’s home base. View "IMPOSSIBLE FOODS INC. V. IMPOSSIBLE X LLC" on Justia Law