Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

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This appeal stemmed from the parties' longstanding dispute over the literary works of John Steinbeck. In this case, a federal jury in Los Angeles unanimously awarded plaintiff, as executrix of Elaine's estate (Elaine was the widow of Steinbeck), compensatory damages for slander of title, breach of contract, and tortious interference with economic advantage, and punitive damages against defendants. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the orders granting summary judgment and striking defendants' defenses to tortious interference on grounds of collateral estoppel. Furthermore, the panel explained that it follows that the district court's decisions to exclude evidence related to defendants' different understanding of the agreement at issue or the validity of the prior court decisions were not abuses of discretion. The panel affirmed the compensatory damages award, holding that the record contained substantial evidence to support the awards on each cause of action independently. Furthermore, the compensatory damages were not speculative. The panel held that there was more than ample evidence of defendants' malice in the record to support the jury's verdict, thus triggering entitlement to punitive damages. However, the panel vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the punitive damages claims against Gail, Steinbeck's daughter-in-law, based on lack of meaningful evidence of Gail's financial condition and her ability to pay. View "Kaffaga v. The Estate of Thomas Steinbeck" on Justia Law

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When the existence of a license is not in question, a copyright holder must plausibly allege that the defendant exceeded particular terms of the license. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Scholastic in an action brought by Yamashita for copyright infringement. The court held that, although Yamashita stands in this suit not as a party to the contract that set the limits now allegedly breached, and more as a beneficiary of that contract, the Corbis‐Scholastic license still sets the terms that provide the foundation for Yamashita's complaint. The court held that the speculative, indefinite allegations made in this case as to all photographs, except the ones in Row 80, were insufficient to state a claim. Furthermore, the court's decision was not in conflict with Arista Records, LLC v. Doe 3, 604 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 2010). Finally, because the proposed amendment would not cure the complaint's defects, leave to amend was futile. View "Yamashita v. Scholastic Inc." on Justia Law

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Sullivan, a graphic design artist, produced 33 illustrations for Flora, an herbal supplement company, to use in two advertising campaigns. Upon noticing that Flora was using the illustrations in other ads, Sullivan brought suit for copyright infringement and opted to pursue statutory damages to maximize her potential payout by classifying each of her 33 illustrations as “one work” within the meaning of section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act. Flora argued that the illustrations were part of two broader compilations. The district court instructed the jury that Sullivan could recover separate awards of statutory damages for 33 acts of infringement on 33 separate illustrations. The jury returned a statutory damages award of $3.6 million. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court committed error in permitting separate awards of statutory damages unaccompanied by any finding that each or any of the 33 illustrations constituted “one work” within the meaning and protection of section 504(c)(1). View "Sullivan v. Flora, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this declaratory judgment action over the copyright ownership of six scores composed by Ennio Morricone, the assignee of Morricone's copyrights sought to terminate that assignment under the U.S. Copyright Act. The district court granted summary judgment to Bixio Music Group, the company in which Morricone assigned his rights to the scores. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the scores were not works made for hire under either Italian law or U.S. law. Therefore, the works were subject to the termination right of 17 U.S.C. 203. View "Ennio Morricone Music, Inc. v. Bixio Music Group" on Justia Law

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The parties dispute the validity of a copyright in a full-body banana costume. The Third Circuit applied the Supreme Court's decision in Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 1002 (2017), and held that the banana costume's combination of colors, lines, shape, and length (i.e., its artistic features) are both separable and capable of independent existence, and thus are copyrightable. The court held that the merger doctrine did not apply in this case, because copyrighting Rasta's banana costume would not effectively monopolize the underlying idea because there are many other ways to make a costume resemble a banana. Furthermore, the scenes a faire doctrine was inapplicable. Therefore, the district court did not err when it held that Rasta was reasonably likely to prove ownership of a valid copyright. View "Silvertop Associates Inc. v. Kangaroo Manufacturing Inc." on Justia Law

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The parties dispute the ownership of copyrights in 44 articles written by the film critic Stanley Kauffmann, which first appeared in The New Republic magazine and now have been republished in an anthology. The Estate appealed the district court's dismissal of the complaint against RIT for copyright infringement based on RIT's publication of the anthology. RIT asserted the defense that the Estate did not own the copyrights, arguing that the articles were works for hire and that the magazine was the author of the works with ownership of the copyrights. The Second Circuit held that Kauffmann's articles were not works for hire because the letter agreement (which stated that his articles were works for hire) was signed long after the works were created, and no special circumstances even arguably warrant applying the written agreement. Therefore, Kauffmann was and remains the author of the 44 articles and his Estate, as his successor, was the owner of the copyrights in them. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "The Estate of Stanley Kauffmann v. Rochester Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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Narkiewicz‐Laine, an artist, rented space from the defendants in 2004. About six years later, the defendants cleared the rental space and discarded most of his property, including his only records of the stored property. Narkiewicz‐Laine filed suit, citing the Visual Artists Rights Act, 17 U.S.C. 106A. For certain visual art, the Act confers upon artists rights to attribution and integrity, including the right to prevent the work’s destruction. Narkiewicz‐Laine added claims for trespass, conversion, and negligence under Illinois law. He sought $11 million for his losses. The defendants presented evidence that Narkiewicz‐Laine had missed multiple rent payments and stopped paying for the property's utilities, and testified that, before emptying the space, they saw nothing resembling art or valuable personal property. The defendants introduced Narkiewicz‐Laine's prior conviction for lying to an FBI agent. The jury awarded $120,000 in damages under the Act plus $300,000 on the state law claims, reflecting the loss of all the belongings stored at the unit. The court reduced the total award to $300,000 to avoid an improper double recovery, reasoning that Narkiewicz‐Laine’s common law claims necessarily included the loss of his artwork. The court concluded did not award Narkiewicz‐Laine attorneys’ fees under the Copyright Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first upholding the decision to allow Narkiewicz‐Laine’s 2003 conviction into evidence. Narkiewicz‐Laine is not entitled to recover twice for the same property, so the actual damages attributed to specific art must be subtracted from the jury’s award of actual damages for all destroyed property. View "Narkiewicz-Laine v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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Hill built Commerce Bank from a single commercial bank location in 1973 by emphasizing customer loyalty through initiatives such as extended hours, quick account openings, and free perks. His success brought personal acclaim. The relationship between Hill and Commerce soured, culminating in Hill’s 2007 termination and TD Bank’s acquisition of Commerce for $8.5 billion. The publication of a book Hill had written during his Commerce tenure was canceled. In 2012, Hill wrote a new book. TD filed a copyright lawsuit alleging that parts of the 2012 book infringe the earlier book. In enjoining Hill from publishing or marketing his book, the district court concluded that TD owned the copyright under a letter agreement and that Hill’s book irreparably violated its “right to not use the copyright.” The Third Circuit vacated the injunction, reasoning that the district court had made “sweeping conclusions” that would justify the issuance of an injunction in every copyright case. Instead of employing “categorical rule[s]” that would resolve the propriety of injunctive relief “in a broad swath of cases,” courts should issue injunctive relief only upon a sufficient showing that such relief is warranted under particular circumstances. Although the agreement between the parties did not vest initial ownership of the copyright by purporting to designate the manuscript a work “for hire,” it did transfer any ownership interest Hill possessed to TD, so Hill’s co-ownership defense fails. View "TD Bank NA v. Hill" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and award of attorney's fees to Sanctuary Clothing in an action brought by Fiesta, alleging that Sanctuary clothing copied its fabric design. The panel held that the district court did not err in finding that the design had been published prior to registration and therefore Fiesta's registration application contained an inaccuracy. Furthermore, Fiesta included inaccurate information on its application with knowledge that it was inaccurate. Therefore, the inaccuracy in the registration rendered it invalid as to the design under section 411(b)(1)(B) of the Copyright Act. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees to Sanctuary Clothing. View "Gold Value International Textile, Inc. v. Sanctuary Clothing, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of Brent Sloan’s participation in two transactions: (1) a merger between Advanced Recovery Systems, LLC and Kinum, Inc.; and (2) the sale of software from Kinum to Sajax Software, LLC. American Agencies, LLC alleged harm from these transactions and sued Sloan for damages and restitution. After the close of evidence, Sloan filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Following the denial of this motion, a jury found Sloan liable on American Agencies’ claims of tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, tortious interference with contract, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Sloan unsuccessfully renewed his motion for judgment as a matter of law. After the district court denied this motion, Sloan appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part finding Sloan did not preserve his arguments as to tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, and tortious interference with contract. The Tenth Circuit agreed the district court erred in instructing the jury on improper means, and the Court concurred with Sloan that on the claim of unjust enrichment, the jury could not have reasonably inferred the value of a benefit to him. View "Sloan v. American Agencies, LLC" on Justia Law