Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
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
American Society for Testing and Materials v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc.
Plaintiffs in this case are three standard-developing organizations: the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the NFPA. Defendant, Public.Resource.Org, is a non-profit group that disseminates legal and other materials. It has posted on its website copies of hundreds of incorporated standards. Plaintiffs sued Public Resource for copyright infringement. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on their claims as to nine of the disputed standards. The district court granted the motion and enjoined Public Resource from posting these standards. The DC Circuit reversed and remanded for further factual development. On remand, the district court held that the non-commercial posting of standards incorporated by reference into law is fair use. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s reasonable exercise of discretion in declining to award injunctive relief. The court explained that the first three factors under section 107 strongly favor fair use, and the fourth is equivocal. The court concluded that Public Resource’s non-commercial posting of incorporated standards is fair use. Further, the court found that the district court reasonably declined to enter an injunction. Public Resource promptly removed from its website the 32 standards found not to have been incorporated into law. The court explained that Plaintiffs give the court no reason to think that Public Resource will post unincorporated standards again absent an injunction View "American Society for Testing and Materials v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc." on Justia Law
Valancourt Books, LLC v. Merrick Garland
The Copyright Office sent a letter to Valancourt Books, LLC, an independent press based in Richmond, Virginia, demanding physical copies of Valancourt’s published books on the pain of fines. Valancourt protested that it could not afford to deposit physical copies and that much of what it published was in the public domain. In response, the Office narrowed the list of demanded works but continued to demand that Valancourt deposit copies of its books with the Library of Congress or otherwise face a fine. Valancourt then brought this action against the Register of Copyrights and the Attorney General. Valancourt challenged the application of Section 407’s deposit requirement against it as an unconstitutional taking of its property in violation of the Fifth Amendment and an invalid burden on its speech in violation of the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the government on both claims. The DC Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in the government’s favor and remanded for the entry of judgment to Valancourt and the award of relief. The court concluded that Section 407, as applied by the Copyright Office in this case, worked an unconstitutional taking of Valancourt’s property. The court explained that the Office demanded that Valancourt relinquish property (physical copies of copyrighted books) on the pain of fines. And because the requirement to turn over copies of the works is not a condition of attaining (or retaining) copyright protection in them, the demand to forfeit property cannot be justified as the conferral of a benefit in exchange for property. View "Valancourt Books, LLC v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law
ORACLE USA, INC., ET AL V. RIMINI STREET, INC.
This civil contempt dispute is the fallout from the protracted copyright infringement litigation between Oracle USA, Inc. and Rimini Street, Inc.—now in its thirteenth year. In the underlying case, the district court entered a permanent injunction that enjoined Rimini from various infringing practices. Years later, the district court identified ten potential violations of the permanent injunction (“Issues 1– 10”), and ultimately held Rimini in contempt on five. Rimini was ordered to pay $630,000 in statutory sanctions plus attorneys’ fees. On appeal, Rimini argued that the contempt order should be reversed and that the sanctions should be vacated. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part the district court’s order. The permanent injunction generally prohibited Rimini from reproducing, preparing derivative works from, or distributing certain Oracle software. The district court identified ten potential violations of the permanent injunction (Issues 1–10) and held Rimini in contempt on five (Issues 1-4, 8). The panel affirmed the district court’s finding of contempt on Issues 1-4. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in holding Rimini in contempt for hosting Oracle files on its computer systems (Issue 1). The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding Rimini in contempt for violating the injunction against the “cross use” of development environments (Issues 2, 3, and 4). Reversing the finding of contempt on Issue 8, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion in holding Rimini in contempt for creating copies of an Oracle Database file on its systems. View "ORACLE USA, INC., ET AL V. RIMINI STREET, INC." on Justia Law
Live Face on Web, LLC v. Cremation Society of Illinois, Inc.
The defendants each licensed computer code from Live Face for $328. Live Face then sued them for copyright infringement, seeking about $483,000 in damages. Live Face has roughly 200 copyright suits pending. After more than five years, with summary judgment pending, Live Face successfully moved to dismiss its suit with prejudice. It argued that a 2021 Supreme Court case (Google) made the defendants’ fair-use defense insurmountable. The defendants sought fees; the district court denied the motion, finding that the defendants did not prevail because of their defenses but rather due to a fortuitous, unforeseen change in the law.The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded. The Copyright Act authorizes prevailing parties to recover costs and fees, 17 U.S.C. 505. Four nonexclusive factors are relevant: the frivolousness of the suit; the losing party’s motivation for bringing or defending against a suit; the objective unreasonableness of the claims advanced by the losing party; and the need to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence. The defendants did prevail because of their defenses, including their fair-use defense. No matter which side prevailed in Google, the law would favor one of these parties. It is unclear whether Google changed anything relevant here, without a proper analysis of how Google affected Live Face’s claims. Even if Google did change something fundamental, the defendants raised defenses apart from fair use, which might have defeated Live Face’s claims. View "Live Face on Web, LLC v. Cremation Society of Illinois, Inc." on Justia Law