Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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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

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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

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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

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Oracle, owner of the proprietary Solaris software operating system, filed suit alleging that HPE improperly accessed, downloaded, copied, and installed Solaris patches on servers not under an Oracle support contract. Oracle asserted direct copyright infringement claims for HPE's direct support customers, and indirect infringement claims for joint HPE-Terix customers. The district court granted summary judgment for HPE.The Ninth Circuit held that the copyright infringement claim is subject to the Copyright Act's three year statute of limitations, which runs separately for each violation. The panel explained that Oracle's constructive knowledge triggered the statute of limitations and Oracle failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into the suspected infringement. The panel also held that the intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claim is barred by California's two year statute of limitations. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's partial summary judgment for HPE on the infringement and intentional interference claims. The panel also affirmed in part summary judgment on the indirect infringement claims for patch installations by Terix; reversed summary judgment on all infringement claims for pre-installation conduct and on the direct infringement claims for unauthorized patch installations by HPE; and addressed all other issues in a concurrently filed memorandum opinion. View "Oracle America, Inc. v. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment after a jury trial and award of attorneys' fees in favor of Unicolors in a copyright infringement action against H&M, where Unicolors alleged that a design it created in 2011 is remarkably similar to a design printed on garments that H&M began selling in 2015.The panel held that courts may not consider in the first instance whether the Register of Copyrights would have refused registration due to the inclusion of known inaccuracies in a registration application. In this case the district court erred by imposing an intent-to-defraud requirement for registration invalidation and erred in concluding that Unicolors’s application for copyright registration did not contain inaccuracies despite the inclusion of confined designs.The panel held that the plain meaning of "single unit" in 37 C.F.R. 202.3(b)(4)(i)(A) requires that the registrant first published the collection of works in a singular, bundled collection. The panel explained that it is an inaccuracy for a registrant like Unicolors to register a collection of works as a single-unit publication when the works were not initially published as a singular, bundled collection. Furthermore, the undisputed evidence adduced at trial further shows that H&M included the inaccurate information "with knowledge that it was inaccurate." Therefore, the panel remanded to the district court with instructions to submit an inquiry to the Register of Copyrights asking whether the known inaccuracies contained in the '400 Registration application, if known to the Register of Copyrights, would have caused it to refuse registration. View "Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Dolores' motion for recovery of attorney's fees under the Copyright Act. The district court had granted summary judgment for Dolores on Doc's Dream's complaint seeking a declaration that the late religious leader Dr. Eugene Scott completely abandoned his works to the public domain. The district court then denied Dolores' motion for attorney fees under 17 U.S.C. 505.The panel held that, even when asserted as a claim for declaratory relief, any action that turns on the existence of a valid copyright and whether that copyright has been infringed invokes the Copyright Act. Therefore, attorney's fees may be available under section 505 of the Copyright Act. View "Doc's Dream, LLC v. Dolores Press, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, a licensing company, alleging that the Burbank High School student show choirs failed to obtain licenses for their use of copyrighted sheet music in arranging a show choir performance.The panel held that plaintiff lacked standing to sue as to three of the four musical works at issue, and that the defense of fair use rendered the use of the fourth work noninfringing. In regard to the three works, plaintiff received its interests in the three songs from individual co-owners of copyright, without the consent of the other co-owners, and therefore held only nonexclusive licenses in those works. The panel held that the use of the fourth work was a fair use in light of the limited and transformative nature of the use and the work's nonprofit educational purposes in enhancing the educational experience of high school students. Finally, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion in denying defendants' motion for attorneys' fees under 17 U.S.C. 505, and remanded for the calculation of the award. View "Tresóna Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action alleging copyright infringement by the Disney movie Inside Out of plaintiffs' characters called The Moodsters. After plaintiff developed The Moodsters, anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions, she pitched to entertainment and toy companies around the country, including The Walt Disney Company.The panel held that, under DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. 2015), lightly sketched characters such as The Moodsters, which lack consistent, identifiable character traits and attributes, do not enjoy copyright protection. Furthermore, under Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broad. Sys., 216 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1954), The Moodsters are chessman in the game of telling the story. In this case, the panel applied the alternative "story being told" test and held that The Moodsters as an ensemble are no more copyrightable than the individual characters. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claim for an implied-in-fact contract where plaintiff was required under California law to do more than plead a boiler-plate allegation, devoid of any relevant details. View "Daniels v. The Walt Disney Co." on Justia Law

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The estate of guitarist Randy Wolfe filed suit claiming that Led Zeppelin copied portions of Taurus, a song written by Wolfe and performed by his band Spirit, in Led Zeppelin's opening notes of Stairway to Heaven.The en banc court affirmed the district court's judgment after a jury trial in favor of Led Zeppelin, holding that the 1909 Copyright Act, which does not protect sound recordings, controlled its analysis. In this case, Taurus was an unpublished work registered in 1967. Because the deposit copy defines the four corners of the Taurus copyright, the en banc court held that it was not error for the district court to decline plaintiff's request to play the sound recordings of the Taurus performance that contain further embellishments or to admit the recordings on the issue of substantial similarity.The en banc court also held that plaintiff's complaint on access was moot. The en banc court affirmed the district court's challenged jury instructions; rejected the inverse ratio rule, overruling circuit precedent to the contrary; and held that the district court did not err in its formulation of the originality instructions, or in excluding a selection and arrangement instruction. Finally, the en banc court affirmed the district court with respect to the remaining trial issues and its denial of attorneys' fees and costs to Warner/Chappell. View "Skidmore v. Zeppelin" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, for failure to state a claim, of an action brought by Great Minds, publisher of math curriculum Eureka Math. The complaint alleged a claim of copyright infringement against Office Depot.The panel held that Office Depot did not itself become a licensee of the "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License" or otherwise infringe Great Minds' copyright by making copies of Eureka Math materials for a profit on behalf of school and school district licensees. In this case, there was no dispute that, if Office Depot were itself a licensee, commercial copying of Great Minds' material would fall outside the scope of the license and infringe Great Minds' copyright; under California law, the school and school district licensees' exercise of their rights under the license through the services provided by Office Depot did not result in Office Depot becoming a licensee; and the district court not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend the complaint. View "Great Minds v. Office Depot, Inc." on Justia Law