Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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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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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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MRT filed suit against Microsoft, alleging patent infringement stemming from MRT's development of a technology to protect electronic files from content piracy. The Ninth Circuit held that claim preclusion barred the claims in this suit that accrued at the time of MRT's patent-infringement action, because these claims arose from the same events—Microsoft's alleged misappropriation of MRT's software—as the prior patent infringement claims. Furthermore, they merely offer different legal theories for why Microsoft's alleged conduct was wrongful. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the dismissal of these claims. However, the panel held that, under Howard v. City of Coos Bay, 871 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir. 2017), claim preclusion did not bar MRT from asserting copyright infringement claims that accrued after it filed its patent-infringement suit: namely, claims arising from the sale of Microsoft products after MRT filed its patent-infringement suit. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's dismissal of these copyright infringement claims and remanded for further proceedings. View "Media Rights Technologies, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of two copyright infringement actions against defendants, accusing them of copying Malibu's lace designs. The court held that, at the pleading stage, Malibu successfully alleged ownership of valid, registered copyrights. Malibu also plausibly alleged striking similarity between Malibu's designs and defendants' designs. Furthermore, the district court abused its discretion in denying Malibu leave to amend its allegations of access for a theory of substantial similarity. Finally, the panel dismissed as moot H&M's cross-appeal from the district court's denial of attorney fees. View "Malibu Textiles, Inc. v. Label Lane International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed a jury verdict finding that he vicariously and contributorily infringed Erickson's copyrighted images by displaying them on his website and did so willfully. This case arose when defendant hired a website developer, Only Websites, to redevelop defendant's company website and three photos taken by Erickson were incorporated on the company site. The panel vacated the jury's vicarious liability verdict because Erickson presented no evidence that could constitute a direct financial benefit as a matter of law. However, the panel affirmed the jury's contributory liability verdict and upheld the judgment against defendant, because the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury that "knowledge" for contributory infringement purposes includes having a "reason to know" of the infringement. Finally, the panel vacated the jury's willfulness finding and remanded for a determination of whether defendant's infringement was willful on the existing record. View "Erickson Productions, Inc. v. Kast" on Justia Law

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VHT filed a copyright infringement suit against Zillow, alleging that Zillow's use of photos on its Listing Platform and Digs exceeded the scope of VHT's licenses to brokers, agents, and listing services who provided those photos to Zillow. The Ninth Circuit held that VHT failed to satisfy its burden of demonstrating that Zillow directly infringed the photos displayed on the Listing Platform, because VHT failed to provide evidence showing that Zillow exercised control; selected any material for upload, download, transmission, or storage; or instigated any copying, storage or distribution of the photos. The panel also held that VHT did not present substantial evidence that Zillow, through the Digs platform, directly infringed its display, reproduction, or adaption rights in 22,109 not displayed photos and 2,093 displayed but non-searchable photos. However, the fair use defense did not absolve Zillow of direct liability for 3,921 displayed, searchable Digs photos. The panel affirmed the district court's grant of Zillow's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to secondary infringement, both contributory and vicarious infringement. In regard to damages, the panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings as to whether the VHT photos remaining at issue were a compilation, and held that substantial evidence did not show Zillow was actually aware of its infringing activity nor was it reckless or willfully blind to its infringement. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "VHT, Inc. v. Zillow Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment for Led Zeppelin in a copyright infringement suit alleging that Led Zeppelin copied "Stairway to Heaven" from the song "Taurus," written by Spirit band member Randy Wolfe. The panel held that several of the district court's jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial. Therefore, the panel remanded for a new trial. The panel also held that the scope of copyright protection for an unpublished work under the Copyright Act of 1909 is defined by the deposit copy, and the sound recordings of "Taurus" as performed by Spirit could not be used to prove substantial similarity. The panel also held that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing recordings of "Taurus" to be played for the purpose of demonstrating access. Finally, the district court was well within its discretion when it chose to exclude expert testimony on the basis of a conflict of interest. The panel vacated and remanded the district court's denial of defendants' motions for attorneys' fees and costs. View "Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin" on Justia Law

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A bare allegation that a defendant is the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol address associated with infringing activity is not sufficient to state a claim for direct or contributory infringement. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by plaintiff under the Copyright Act, alleging direct and contributory infringement. The panel held that the direct infringement claim failed because defendant's status as the registered subscriber of an infringing IP address, standing alone, did not create a reasonable inference that he was also the infringer. The panel reasoned that because multiple devices and individuals may be able to connect via an IP address, simply identifying the IP subscriber solved only part of the puzzle. The panel held that a plaintiff must allege something more to create a reasonable inference that a subscriber is also an infringer. Furthermore, Cobbler Nevada could not succeed on its contributory infringement theory because, without allegations of intentional encouragement or inducement of infringement, an individual's failure to take affirmative steps to police his internet connection was insufficient to state a claim. View "Cobbler Nevada, LLC v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to CBS in an action alleging violation of state law copyrights owned by ABS in sound recordings originally fixed before 1972. The panel held that the district court erred in finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact about the copyright eligibility of remastered sound recordings distributed by CBS and improperly concluded that ABS's state copyright interest in pre-1972 sound recordings embodied in the remastered sound recordings was preempted; the district court abused its discretion by excluding evidence of ABS's expert and reports that evidenced CBS's performance of ABS's sound recordings in California, and granting partial summary judgment of no infringement with respect to the samples contained in those reports; and the district court's strict application of its local rules with respect to the timeliness of ABS's motion for class action certification was inconsistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and thus an abuse of discretion. The panel reversed the striking of class certification and remanded for further proceedings. View "ABS Entertainment, Inc. v. CBS Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees in a copyright infringement action brought by a film production company, alleging that a single user illegally downloaded and distributed repeatedly American Heist, a Hollywood action movie. In Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994), the Supreme Court laid out factors to guide discretion in whether to award fees. The panel held that the district court did not faithfully apply the Fogerty factors in this meritorious BitTorrent action. The panel noted that the district court's analysis of whether fees are warranted should be based on Glacier's case against defendant, and not on the district court's view of BitTorrent litigation in general or on the conduct of Glacier's counsel in other suits. Therefore, remand was necessary because the district court denied fees under the present circumstances based on a one-size-fits-all disapproval of other BitTorrent suits. View "Glacier Films (USA), Inc. v. Turchin" on Justia Law