Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Beatriz Ball, LLC, is a Louisiana company doing business as Beatriz Ball and Beatriz Ball Collection. Barbagallo Company, LLC is a New Jersey company doing business as Pampa Bay. Plaintiff alleged that Pampa Bay has been marketing and distributing products that infringe on Beatriz Ball’s registered copyrights and its unregistered trade dress for its “Organic Pearl” line of tableware.   Plaintiff challenged the district court’s conclusions that (1) the company lacked standing under the Copyright Act because the plaintiff did not obtain a valid assignment of its claim, and (2) it failed to establish a protectable trade dress under the Lanham Act.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court erred in its standing determination and that certain errors in its analysis of the trade dress claim require reconsideration by the district court. The court explained that whether Beatriz Ball’s trade dress has acquired secondary meaning is considered a question of fact reviewed on appeal for clear error. Here, the record indicates that the district court clearly erred in analyzing three of the factors: volume of sales, the nature of the use of Organic Pearl trade dress in newspapers and magazines, and the defendant’s intent in copying the trade dress. Ultimately, a visual comparison of Pampa Bay’s products to the Organic Pearl line makes it difficult to deny that there was intent to copy. The designs are not just alike, they are indistinguishable in some cases. Thus, the sum of errors in the district court’s analysis of secondary meaning requires reconsideration of the evidence and overall re-weighing of the factors. View "Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company" 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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Kelley wanted to publish “Hooker to Looker,” to promote her cosmetics business. Di Angelo agreed to publish and distribute Kelley’s then-unwritten Book, with Kelly receiving 50 percent of the net royalties. Kelley provided Di Angelo with a three-page manuscript, detailing her background and outlining the Book’s topics. Di Angelo claims it wrote the Book while “communicating and/or collaborating with Kelley.” The Book Di Angelo distributed lists only Kelley as the copyright holder. Di Angelo sold the initial 1,000-copy print run. Kelley asked Di Angelo for an updated version. Di Angelo alleges that it prepared the updated work, then discovered that Kelley was attempting to work directly with Di Angelo’s printer, in violation of the contract.Kelley sued, claiming that Di Angelo overcharged her and alleging that she “is the sole owner of all copyrights.” Di Angelo counterclaimed for breach of contract. That state court action is pending. Di Angelo filed a federal suit, seeking a declaration that it owns the copyrights. Kelley challenged federal jurisdiction, arguing the claim was premised solely on her alleged breach of the contract, a controversy governed by Texas law. Di Angelo claimed resolution of the authorship dispute required interpretation of federal copyright law, including the definitional and ownership provisions in 17 U.S.C. 101 & 201, which the state court lacks jurisdiction to address. The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Di Angelo’s claim necessarily implicates federal law definitions of “Initial ownership” and “Works made for hire.” View "Di Angelo Publications, Inc. v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to one count of criminal copyright infringement, the district court sentenced defendant to 46 months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay restitution to the copyright owner, Scientific Games Corporation.After determining that defendant's appeal waiver did not bar defendant's challenge, the Fifth Circuit vacated the restitution order, concluding that the government failed to carry its burden of properly establishing the number of infringing items placed into commerce that defendant was responsible for and the resulting harm to Scientific Games in terms of lost net profit. The court remanded for the district court to reanalyze the government's evidence and to determine the number of counterfeit Life of Luxury (LOL) motherboards actually sold and put into the market to compete with legitimate LOL games and the net profit lost by Scientific Games as a result. The court dismissed defendant's challenge to the imposition of a sentencing enhancement because it is barred by his appeal waiver. View "United States v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Paul Batiste, a local jazz musician, brought a copyright infringement action against the world-famous hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. After the district court found no evidence of copyrighting, it granted summary judgment for defendants and then ordered both Batiste and his attorney to pay defendants' attorneys' fees.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court acted well within its discretion in denying Batiste's motion for leave to supplement his summary-judgment opposition. The court also held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment for defendants on the copyright infringement claims where Batiste failed to produce evidence for a reasonable jury to infer that defendants had access to his music or to find striking similarities between his songs and those of defendants. Therefore, he cannot prove factual copying and his copyright claims fail. The court further held that, given the objective unreasonableness of Batiste's claims, his history of litigation misconduct, and his pattern of filing overaggressive copyright actions, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees to defendants under the Copyright Act. Finally, the court lacked jurisdiction to review Batiste's challenge to the district court's decision to hold his attorney jointly and severally liable for the fee award as a sanction. View "Batiste v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Digidrill filed suit against its competitor, Petrolink, alleging that Petrolink hacked into its software at various oil drilling sites in order to "scrape" valuable drilling data in real time. The district court granted Petrolink's motion for summary judgment on Digidrill's copyright claims. Digidrill's unjust enrichment claim proceeded to trial, where a jury returned a verdict in Digidrill's favor.In regard to the copyright infringement claim, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that Digidrill likely waived its "qualitative importance" argument but, even if not, the argument fails on the merits because no reasonable jury could find substantial similarity based on the qualitative importance of the copied schema to DataLogger as a whole. The court also affirmed the district court's judgment as to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act claims, holding that the USB dongle and Interface Process did not effectively control access to the protected database schema.The court also held that Digidrill's unjust enrichment claim is not preempted by the Copyright Act because the claim incorporates an element beyond mere unauthorized copying. The court held that the available Texas authorities do not foreclose the possibility that a litigant may show the taking of an undue advantage without showing the violation of a law or legal duty. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Petrolink's judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether Digidrill adduced sufficient evidence of the benefit Petrolink obtained from Digidrill. Finally, the court held that the district court failed to treat Petrolink as the prevailing party under the relevant statutes and failed to apply the correct legal standard. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's denial of Petrolink's motion for fees and remanded. View "Digital Drilling Data Systems, LLC v. Petrolink Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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EIG, publisher of "Oil Daily," filed suit alleging numerous instances of copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) against KA, a boutique investment firm. KA purchased an annual "Oil Daily" subscription for a partner, but the partner routinely shared access with fellow KA employees and other third parties in violation of his subscription agreements and copyright law.The Fifth Circuit held that failure to mitigate is not a complete defense to copyright or DMCA claims for statutory damages; the district court properly denied KA's referral motion; and the district court properly denied KA's post-offer attorney's fees under Rule 68. The court also held that remand was necessary to determine copyright damages because the court could not determine whether the jury intended to award EIG $15,000 per infringed work. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of KA's 17 U.S.C. 411(b) referral motion; vacated the judgment in full and instated an award of $1,062,500 for EIG's DMCA claims. The court remanded as to copyright damages, attorney's fees, and costs, with the clarification that non-prevailing copyright and DMCA defendants may not recover post-offer attorney's fees under Rule 68. View "Energy Intelligence Group, Inc. v. Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, LP" on Justia Law

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Southern Credentialing filed suit claiming that Hammond's ongoing use of credentialing forms infringed Southern Credentialing's copyrights. The district court granted summary judgment as to the existence of the copyrights and infringement, granting damages, attorney's fees and costs, as well as an injunction barring Hammond from infringing the copyrights. Both parties appealed.The Fifth Circuit held that Southern Credentialing has valid copyrights protecting the selection and arrangement of information in its credentialing forms. The court also held that the district court correctly concluded that Hammond infringed valid copyrights of Southern Credentialing and thus the court affirmed the permanent injunction barring future infringement.The court held that 17 U.S.C. 412 bars statutory damage awards when a defendant violates one of the six exclusive rights of a copyright holder preregistration and violates a different right in the same work after registration. In this case, although Southern Credentialing was unable to obtain statutory damages, it has obtained an injunction that will protect against future infringement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for entry of an amended judgment. View "Southern Credentialing Support Services, LLC v. Hammond Surgical Hospital, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law to defendants, concluding that federal law preempted ThermoTek's unfair competition claim and that ThermoTek failed to prove its damages for fraud. ThermoTek designs, manufacturers, and sells the VascuTherm system, which consists of a medical device and specially designed wraps that provide thermal and compression therapy. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in reaching the preemption defense on the merits. On the merits, the court held that federal copyright and patent laws preempted the unfair-competition-by-misappropriation claim. View "Motion Medical Technologies, LLC v. Thermotek, Inc." on Justia Law