Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
US v. Bijan Rafiekian
A jury convicted Defendant of one count of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and one count of criminal conspiracy. The district court granted a judgment of acquittal as to both charges and conditionally granted a new trial in the event the judgment of acquittal was reversed on appeal. On appeal, in Rafiekian I, the Fourth Circuit reversed the judgments of acquittal, vacated and remanded the court’s new-trial order, and noted that the district court “may have additional justifications for its decision” that it failed to explain. On remand, ordered a new trial. The government appealed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because the government’s case relied on the jury’s drawing inferences of guilt, the district court had no choice but to examine those inferences in considering the new trial motion. Barring the district court from granting a new trial based solely on disagreement with the jury’s inferences of guilt would place this class of cases beyond the reach of the new-trial standard. The government is entitled to rely on circumstantial evidence, but it is not entitled to special deference when it does so. In this case, because the district court determined that a new trial was warranted based on the weight of the evidence, the court’s role is only to ask whether the court abused its discretion in doing so. Exercising “great deference” to the district court’s “discretionary assessments of the balance of the evidence,” the court held that it did not. View "US v. Bijan Rafiekian" on Justia Law
Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith
In 1984, Goldsmith, a portrait artist, granted Vanity Fair a one-time license to use a Prince photograph to illustrate a story about the musician. Vanity Fair hired Andy Warhol, who made a silkscreen using Goldsmith’s photo. Vanity Fair published the resulting image, crediting Goldsmith for the “source photograph,” and paying her $400. Warhol used Goldsmith’s photograph to derive 15 additional works. In 2016, the Andy Warhol Foundation (AWF) licensed one of those works, “Orange Prince,” to Condé Nast to illustrate a magazine story about Prince. AWF received $10,000. Goldsmith received nothing. When Goldsmith asserted copyright infringement, AWF sued her. The district court granted AWF summary judgment on its assertion of “fair use,” 17 U.S.C. 107. The Second Circuit reversed.The Supreme Court affirmed, agreeing that the first fair use factor, “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes,” weighs against AWF’s commercial licensing to Condé Nast. Both the 1984 and the 2016 publications are portraits of Prince used in magazines to illustrate stories about Prince; the “environment[s]” are not “distinct and different.” The 2016 use also is of a commercial nature. Orange Prince reasonably can be perceived to portray Prince as iconic, whereas Goldsmith’s portrayal is photorealistic but the purpose of that use is still to illustrate a magazine about Prince. The degree of difference is not enough for the first factor to favor AWF. To hold otherwise would potentially authorize a range of commercial copying of photographs, to be used for purposes that are substantially the same as those of the originals. AWF offers no independent justification for copying the photograph. View "Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith" on Justia Law
Posted in: Communications Law, Copyright, Intellectual Property, US Supreme Court
National Oilwell Varco v. Auto-Dril
Varco, L.P. (“Varco”), an oil and gas drilling company, purchased the assets of another drilling company, including U.S. Patent No. 5,474,142 (the “’142 Patent”). Varco’s parent company, Varco International, Inc., and a competitor, National Oilwell, Inc., completed a merger to form National Oilwell Varco, Inc. It was understood that Varco, as Varco International, Inc.’s operating company, would transfer its assets to the newly formed entity’s operating company: Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant National Oilwell Varco, L.P. (“NOV”). NOV filed an action in district court alleging that Defendant-Appellant/CrossAppellee Auto-Dril, Inc. (“Auto-Dril”) infringed the ’142 Patent (the “Underlying Action”). Auto-Dril and NOV entered into a confidential settlement agreement that was intended to end their litigation over the ’142 Patent (the “Settlement Agreement”). The parties appealed various holdings that both preceded and followed a trial regarding their 2011 Settlement Agreement. The Fifth Circuit held that it lacks jurisdiction over Auto-Dril’s counterclaim for being fraudulently induced into entering the Settlement Agreement. The court reversed the ruling granting summary judgment for NOV on Auto-Dril’s claim for breach of the Settlement Agreement. The court reversed the dismissal of NOV’s claim for breach of the Settlement Agreement and remanded NOV’s JMOL motion for reconsideration. The court explained that here, NOV’s conduct did not rise to the level of a fraud on the court. Specifically, there is no clear and convincing evidence that NOV was cognizant that it did not own the ’142 Patent while it was litigating the Underlying Action. View "National Oilwell Varco v. Auto-Dril" on Justia Law
Foss v. Eastern States Exposition
The First Circuit vacated the judgment dismissing on claim preclusion grounds Plaintiff's claims against Eastern States Exposition alleging violations of federal copyright infringement law and the U.S. Visual Artists Rights Act, holding that the district court erred.On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the claim preclusive order gave claim preclusive effect to the dismissal in a prior action that she brought even where the dismissal rested on several grounds, not all of which would on their own render the dismissal claim preclusive. In support of her claim, Plaintiff argued that federal res judicata law recognizes the "alternative-determinations" doctrine. The First Circuit vacated the judgment dismissing the claims at issue, holding (1) the assertedly preclusive dismissal rested on one ground that, on its own, would not allow the dismissal to be claim preclusive, even though the dismissal also rested on two counts that could have; and (2) federal res judiata law recognizes the alternative-determinations doctrine, which strips a dismissal of claim preclusive effect if the dismissal rests on multiple grounds, not all of which would on their own render the dismissal claim preclusive, and the doctrine applied in this case. View "Foss v. Eastern States Exposition" on Justia Law
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION V. CEFCU
Defendant Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) petitioned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel a trademark registration belonging to Plaintiff San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU). SDCCU procured a stay to the TTAB proceedings by filing an action seeking declaratory relief to establish that it was not infringing either of CEFCU’s registered and common-law marks and to establish that those marks were invalid. The district court granted SDCCU’s motion for summary judgment on noninfringement. After a bench trial, the district court also held that CEFCU’s common-law mark was invalid and awarded SDCCU attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion affirming in part and vacating in part the district court’s judgment and award of attorneys’ fees. The panel held that SDCCU had no personal stake in seeking to invalidate CEFCU’s common-law mark because the district court had already granted summary judgment in favor of SDCCU, which established that SDCCU was not infringing that mark. The panel held that the district court correctly exercised personal jurisdiction over CEFCU regarding SDCCU’s noninfringement claims, which sought declaratory relief that SDCCU was not infringing CEFCU’s registered mark or common-law mark. View "SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION V. CEFCU" on Justia Law
Martinelli v. Hearst Newspapers
Sotheby’s International Realty commissioned Plaintiff to photograph Lugalla, an Irish estate owned by the Guinness family. Plaintiff took seven photographs of the property, and Lugalla was subsequently listed for sale. On March 7, 2017, Hearst Newspapers used Plaintiff’s photographs in a web-only article, which Hearst Newspapers published on websites associated with the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Times Union, the Greenwich Time, and The Middletown Press. Plaintiff sued Hearst Newspapers for copyright infringement. On February 11, 2022, Plaintiff amended his complaint to bring a copyright infringement claim against Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. and to allege that his photographs were also used on websites associated with various media sources. Plaintiff brought these claims within three years of discovering the infringements but more than three years after the infringements occurred. The district court followed Graper, granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, and denied Hearst’s motion. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court first explained that Graper is the only precedent binding upon the court to apply the discovery rule with respect to the Section 507(b) limitations period for copyright infringement claims. Further, the court wrote that the Supreme Court’s decisions in Petrella and Rotkiske did not unequivocally overrule Graper. And under Graper, Plaintiff’s copyright infringement claims were timely because he brought them within three years of discovering Hearst’s infringements. View "Martinelli v. Hearst Newspapers" on Justia Law
SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming Ltd.
SAS creates and sells software used for data access, management, analysis, and presentation. The SAS System allows users to input user-written programs into its graphical user interface to complete analytics tasks. Users write commands in SAS’s programming language. An earlier version of the SAS System is in the public domain. SAS has copyright registrations that cover various aspects of the SAS System. WPL created a competitor, the WPS System, which uses the SAS Language to allow users to run user-written programs to complete analytics tasks such as data access, management, analysis, and presentation. SAS sued WPL, alleging copyright infringement of the SAS System and SAS user manuals.The district court first concluded that SAS possessed valid copyright registrations covering SAS’s asserted software, then determined that WPL provided evidence that showed the software program elements were not within the scope of protection under copyright law. Applying the abstraction-filtration-comparison test, the district court determined that SAS failed to establish copyrightability.The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The court interpreted “copyrightability” as meaning whether the specific elements of a copyrighted work that are asserted in a copyright infringement action fall within the scope of protection extended to that particular work under copyright law. The district court acted properly in conducting a pretrial “Copyrightability Hearing.” View "SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming Ltd." on Justia Law
Sullivan v. Flora, Inc.
Sullivan registered copyrights for two “illustration collections,” comprising 33 individual illustrations, and sued Flora for infringing those copyrights, 17 U.S.C. 504(c)(1). A jury found that Flora willfully infringed Sullivan’s copyrights and awarded statutory damages for each of the individual illustrations infringed ($3,600,000). The Seventh Circuit rejected the court's test for calculating statutory damages, which focused exclusively on how the illustrations were copyrighted. The court adopted the “independent economic value test”: “A protected work has standalone value if the evidence shows that work has distinct and discernable value to the copyright holder.” On remand, the district court denied Flora’s request to reopen discovery; held that Flora had waived arguments challenging the independent economic value of certain illustrations; granted Sullivan summary judgment; and entered the same verdict, finding that the 33 illustrations constitute separate works.The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that, in entering summary judgment, the district court violated the remand mandate and improperly weighed the evidence. The case must proceed to trial on the question of damages. The scope of the remand was narrow and limited to determining whether Sullivan’s illustrations “constitute 33 individual works or instead are parts of two compilations (corresponding with the two advertising campaigns in which Flora used the illustrations).” At trial, Flora is not prohibited from “nitpicking” specific aspects of the 33 illustrations to show that they lack independent economic value. Flora is not permitted to relitigate the issues of infringement or joint authorship. View "Sullivan v. Flora, Inc." on Justia Law
Interprofession du Gruyere v. U.S. Dairy Export Council
Appellants are a Swiss consortium, Interprofession du Gruyère (“IDG”), and a French consortium, Syndicat Interprofessionel du Gruyère (“SIG”) (together, “the Consortiums”), who believe that gruyere should only be used to label cheese that is produced in the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France. Seeking to enforce this limitation in the United States, the Consortiums filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to register the word “GRUYERE” as a certification mark. Appellees, the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Atalanta Corporation, and Intercibus, Inc. (together, “the Opposers”), opposed this certification mark because they believe the term is generic and, therefore, ineligible for such protection. The USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) agreed with the Opposers and held that “GRUYERE” could not be registered as a certification mark because it is generic. The Consortiums filed a complaint challenging the TTAB’s decision in the United States district court. The district court granted summary judgment for the Opposers on the same grounds as articulated in the TTAB’s decision. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and concluded that that the term “GRUYERE” is generic as a matter of law. The court explained that the Consortiums have not brought evidence bearing on whether, at an earlier point in history, the term “GRUYERE” was in common use in the United States. But even assuming that was the case, this argument still fails. In sum, the Consortiums cannot overcome what the record makes clear: cheese consumers in the United States understand “GRUYERE” to refer to a type of cheese, which renders the term generic. View "Interprofession du Gruyere v. U.S. Dairy Export Council" on Justia Law
Sherman Nealy, et al. v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al.
Plaintiffs in this case—Sherman Nealy and Music Specialist, Inc.—filed this copyright action seeking, among other things, damages for infringement they allege occurred more than three years before they filed this lawsuit. The defendants—Warner Chappell Music, Inc. and Artist Publishing Group, LLC—contend that Plaintiffs cannot recover damages for anything that happened more than three years before they filed suit. The district court certified the following question for interlocutory appellate review: whether damages in this copyright action are limited to a three-year lookback period as calculated from the date of the filing of the complaint. The Eleventh Circuit answered that question in the negative. The court wrote that given that the plain text of the Copyright Act does not support the existence of a separate damages bar for an otherwise timely copyright claim, the court held that a copyright plaintiff with a timely claim under the discovery rule may recover retrospective relief for infringement that occurred more than three years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. View "Sherman Nealy, et al. v. Warner Chappell Music, Inc., et al." on Justia Law