Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
by
Plaintiff alleged copyright infringement in the posting by Pub Ocean Ltd. of an article about an ephemeral lake that formed on the desert floor in Death Valley, using twelve of Plaintiff’s photos of the lake without seeking or receiving a license.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendant, based on a fair use defense in an action under the Copyright Act, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that Pub Ocean could not invoke a fair use defense to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim. Under 17 U.S.C. Section 107, in determining whether fair use applies, a court must analyze the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.The court explained that because all four statutory factors pointed unambiguously in the same direction, the court held that the district court erred in failing to grant partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on the fair use issue. View "ELLIOT MCGUCKEN V. PUB OCEAN LIMITED" on Justia Law

by
In a prior appeal, the Ninth Circuit vacated a prior dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction and remanded with instructions that Plaintiff be permitted to undertake jurisdictional discovery. On remand, the district court granted defendant VNG Corporation’s renewed motion to dismiss, finding that there was no specific personal jurisdiction in California over VNG, a Vietnamese corporation that released the Zing MP3 mobile music application in the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, for lack of personal jurisdiction, of a copyright infringement suit and remanded for further proceedings. In assessing whether Plaintiff established a prima facie case of jurisdiction, the court analyzed jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), which provides for jurisdiction over foreign defendants that have ample contact with the United States as a whole, but whose contacts are so scattered among states that none of them would have jurisdiction. Under Rule 4(k)(2), the plaintiff must prove: (1) the claim at issue arises from federal law; (2) the defendant is not subject to any state’s courts of general jurisdiction; and (3) invoking jurisdiction upholds due process. The plaintiff has the burden to show the first two prongs, and the burden then shifts to the defendant to show that the application of jurisdiction would be unreasonable. The court concluded that VNG purposefully targeted American companies and their intellectual property. Rejecting VNG’s argument regarding forum non conveniens, the court concluded that venue, in this case, was not proper in Vietnam. View "LANG VAN, INC. V. VNG CORPORATION" on Justia Law

by
Starz Entertainment LLC (Starz) entered into two licensing agreements with MGM Domestic Television Distribution LLC (MGM). Starz sued MGM in May 2020, asserting 340 claims of direct copyright infringement, 340 claims of contributory copyright infringement, 340 claims of vicarious copyright infringement, one claim of breach of contract, and one claim of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. MGM moved for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that many of Starz’s copyright infringement claims are barred by the Supreme Court’s decision in Petrella.   The district court concluded that Petrella left unaffected the discovery rule—that under the Copyright Act there exists “a three-year damages bar [under Section 507(b)] except when the plaintiff reasonably was not aware of the infringements at the time they occurred.” The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial.   The court wrote that generally, a copyright claim accrues when the infringement occurs. The court held that Petrella did not do away with the discovery rule, under which a claim alternatively accrues when the copyright holder knows or reasonably should know that an infringement occurred. The court held that the discovery rule allows copyright holders to recover damages for all infringing acts that occurred before they knew or reasonably should have known of the infringing incidents, and the three-year limitations period runs from the date the claim accrued. The court held that the district court correctly applied the discovery rule, thus Plaintiff was not barred from seeking damages for all acts of infringement. View "STARZ ENTERTAINMENT, LLC V. MGM DOMESTIC TELEVISION DISTR." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order vacating the jury's damages award for copyright infringement and granting judgment as a matter of law to Katy Perry and other defendants. Plaintiffs, Christian hip-hop artists, filed suit alleging that a repeating instrumental figure in one of Katy Perry's songs copied a similar ostinato in one of plaintiffs' songs.The panel held that copyright law protects musical works only to the extent that they are original works of authorship. In this case, the trial record compels the panel to conclude that the ostinatos at issue consist entirely of commonplace musical elements, and that the similarities between them do not arise out of an original combination of these elements. Therefore, the jury's verdict finding defendants liable for copyright infringement was unsupported by the evidence. View "Gray v. Hudson" on Justia Law

by
A 2019 Arizona statute prohibits auto dealer management system (DMS) providers from “tak[ing] any action by contract, technical means or otherwise to prohibit or limit a dealer’s ability to protect, store, copy, share or use” data the dealer has stored in its DMS. DMS providers may not impose charges “beyond any direct costs incurred” for database access. DMS providers may not prohibit the third parties contracted by the dealers “from integrating into the dealer’s data system,” nor may they otherwise “plac[e] an unreasonable restriction on integration.” DMS providers must “[a]dopt and make available a standardized framework for the exchange, integration, and sharing of data” with authorized integrators.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against the statute’s enforcement. There is no conflict preemption; the statute and the federal Copyright Act are not irreconcilable. The statute does not conflict with 17 U.S.C. 106(1), which grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” The plaintiffs forfeited their claim that the statute impaired their contracts with third-party vendors and did not show that the statute impaired their ability to discharge their contractual duty to keep dealer data confidential. The statute was reasonably drawn to serve important public purposes of promoting consumer data privacy and competition and amounted to neither a per se physical taking nor a regulatory taking. View "CDK Global LLC v. Brnovich" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit wrote to clarify the role that de minimis copying plays in statutory copyright. The de minimis concept is properly used to analyze whether so little of a copyrighted work has been copied that the allegedly infringing work is not substantially similar to the copyrighted work and is thus non-infringing. However, once infringement is established, that is, ownership and violation of one of the exclusive rights in copyright under 17 U.S.C. 106, de minimis use of the infringing work is not a defense to an infringement action.The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants based on a putative de minimis use defense in a copyright case involving plaintiff's photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. The panel applied the Perfect 10 server test, concluding that Wilmott's server was continuously transmitting the image to those who used the specific pinpoint address or were conducting reverse image searches using the same or similar photo. Therefore, Wilmott transmitted and displayed the photo without plaintiff's permission. Furthermore, Wilmott's display was public by virtue of the way it operated its servers and its website. The panel also concluded that the "degree of copying" was total because the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted Indianapolis photo. Accordingly, there is no place for an inquiry as to whether there was de minimis copying. On remand, the district court must consider Wilmott's remaining defenses, and it can address the questions surrounding plaintiff's ownership of the Indianapolis photo, in addition to the other defenses raised by Wilmott. View "Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
When an AM/FM radio station plays a song over the air, it does not pay public performance royalties to the owner of the original sound recording. Digital and satellite radio providers like Sirius, however, must pay public performance royalties whenever they broadcast post-1972 music. Before a 2018 amendment to the copyright law, 17 U.S.C. 1401(b), they did not have to pay royalties for playing pre-1972 music under federal law. State law was less clear.The district court held that California law, which grants copyright owners an “exclusive ownership” to the music, creates a right of public performance for owners of pre-1972 sound recordings and that Sirius must pay for playing pre-1972 music. The Ninth Circuit reversed, looking to the common law in the 19th century when California first used the phrase “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute. At that time, no state had recognized a right of public performance for music, and California protected only unpublished works. Nothing suggests that California upended this deeply-rooted common-law understanding of copyright protection when it used the word “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute in 1872, so “exclusive ownership” does not include the right of public performance. View "Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

by
After Desire filed suit against various defendants for copyright infringement, the district court held that Desire owned a valid copyright in the fabric design that was the subject of the action (the Subject Design), and that the Subject Design was entitled to broad copyright protection. The jury returned a verdict for Desire, finding that Manna, ABN, and Top Fashion willfully infringed the Subject Design, and that Pride & Joys and 618 Main innocently infringed the Subject Design.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Desire on the validity of its copyright and the scope of the Subject Design's copyright protection. The panel explained that the "similarity" of one design to another has no bearing on whether Desire "independently created" the subject design. Furthermore, defendants have also failed to introduce evidence that the Subject Design lacked the necessary "modicum of creativity" to be entitled to a valid copyright. The panel also held that the district court correctly extended broad copyright protection to the Subject Design. However, the panel held that the district court erred in permitting multiple awards of statutory damages. In this case, the district court correctly apportioned joint and several liability among the defendants, but the Copyright Act permits only one award of statutory damages here. Therefore, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the judgment awarding Desire multiple awards of statutory damages, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Desire, LLC v. Manna Textiles, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment in favor of defendants on a copyright infringement claim and affirmed the district court's dismissal and grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on a trademark claim concerning the book "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!," (the mash-up) a Dr. Seuss and Star Trek mash-up.The panel held that the mash-up does not make fair use of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" (the original work). The panel explained that the purpose and character of the mash-up; the nature of the original work; the amount and substantiality of the original work; and the potential market for or value of Seuss, all weigh against fair use. The panel concluded that the bottom line is that ComicMix created, without seeking permission or a license, a non-transformative commercial work that targets and usurps the original work's potential market, and ComicMix cannot sustain a fair use defense. The panel also held that Seuss does not have a cognizable trademark infringement claim against ComicMix because the Lanham Act did not apply under the Rogers test. In this case, the allegedly valid trademarks in the title, the typeface, and the style of the original work were relevant to achieving the mash-up's artistic purpose, and the use of the claimed original work trademarks was not explicitly misleading. View "Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP v. ComicMix LLC" on Justia Law

by
Four Seasons front man Frankie Valli and other defendants associated with Jersey Boys did not infringe Rex Woodard's copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito, now owned by Donna Corbello, Woodard's surviving wife.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, after a jury trial in favor of defendants, on the sole ground that Jersey Boys did not infringe DeVito's biography, and so the panel did not reach the district court's fair use rationale. The panel rests its decision primarily on the unremarkable proposition that facts, in and of themselves, may not form the basis for a copyright claim. In this case, each of the alleged similarities between the Play and the Work are based on historical facts, common phrases and scenes-a-faire, or elements that were treated as facts in the Work and are thus unprotected by copyright, even though now challenged as fictional. The panel explained that neither Valli nor the other defendants violated Corbello's copyright by depicting in the Play events in their own lives that are also documented in the Work. Therefore, because the Play did not copy any protected elements of the Work, there was no copyright infringement. View "Corbello v. Vallli" on Justia Law