Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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A collection of music publishers alleged infringement of their copyrights in 197 musical works when a series of live concert recordings was made available by Defendants for download and streaming on their websites. Plaintiffs sought damages and a permanent injunction pursuant to the Copyright Act. The district court held on summary judgment that Defendants had no valid licenses and therefore infringed each of the musical works and that the principal was personally liable. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ request for a permanent injunction.   Defendants appealed from the district court’s summary judgment order and the order granting fees and costs. Plaintiffs cross-appeal from the district court’s denial of a permanent injunction, several evidentiary rulings, and the denial of a new trial.   The Second Circuit affirmed the rulings in the summary judgment order to the extent they: (a) held that Defendants failed to obtain a license for any of the audiovisual recordings, and therefore infringed the audiovisual works; (b) concluded that Defendants had no valid affirmative defense, and (c) declined the Publishers’ request for a permanent injunction. The court vacated the ruling in the summary judgment order that Defendants infringed the musical works used in the audio-only recordings by failing to comply with Section 115’s substantive requirements. The court reversed the ruling on summary judgment that Defendant was liable for direct infringement. The court rejected the challenges to evidentiary rulings. The court affirmed the order denying the motion for a new trial. Finally, the court vacated the award of attorneys’ fees. View "ABKCO Music, Inc. v. Sagan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s judgment granting Defendant Sirius XM Radio, Inc. (“Sirius XM”)’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice for violations of his right of publicity under California common and statutory law because his claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. Section 301. The claims arise from Melendez’s performance under the moniker “Stuttering John” on The Howard Stern Show (the “HS Show”) from 1988 until 2004.   On appeal, Plaintiff asserted that Sirius XM’s use of excerpts of him from the archival episodes in its online and on-air advertisements promoting the HS Show violates his right of publicity under California common and statutory law because his name and likeness have been exploited for Sirius XM’s commercial gain without his permission.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that Plaintiff failed to plausibly allege any use of his name or likeness that is separate from, or beyond, the rebroadcasting, in whole or in part, of the copyrightable material from the HS Show’s archives and, thus, his right of publicity claims are preempted by the Copyright Act. Moreover, because Plaintiff has failed to articulate any allegations that he could add in a second amended complaint that overcome preemption in this case, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined that any leave to re-plead would be futile and properly dismissed his claims with prejudice. View "Melendez v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellants, heirs to the late songwriter and record producer Hugo Peretti, appealed from the district court’s order dismissing Appellants’ action, which sought a declaratory judgment that Appellants had validly terminated a 1983 grant of rights in the copyright to the hit song “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The district court dismissed the action, holding that the grant was not “executed by the author” under Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976 and therefore that Appellants had no statutory right to terminate the grant.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976 applies only to grants executed by the author. While Hugo Peretti’s signature is affixed to the grant document at issue, the interests at issue are the contingent rights held and transferred to the Appellees’ predecessors-in-interest by Peretti’s spouse and children, the grant of which was not and cannot be executed by the author.  The court reasoned that while Hugo Peretti’s signature is on the 1983 Assignment, he cannot have executed a grant transferring rights, such as those owned by his family members, that he did not hold. Rather, his signature on the grant document transfers only his own contingent right to the renewal term, while his wife’s and daughters’ signatures transferred their respective contingent rights. Thus, because Hugo Peretti died before his contingent right vested, the rights transferred to Appellee’s predecessors-in-interest were the contingent rights held by his wife and daughter. View "Peretti v. Authentic Brands Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that, for Copyright Act purposes, the screenwriter Victor Miller was an independent contractor of the film production company Manny, Inc., in 1979, when Miller wrote the screenplay for the landmark horror film Friday the 13th, released in 1980. Manny argues primarily that Miller's membership in the Writers' Guild of America, East, Inc. (WGA), and Manny's participation in the producers' collective bargaining agreement with the WGA in the same period establish that Miller was Manny's employee for Copyright Act purposes.The court concluded that copyright law, not labor law, controls the "work for hire" determination here. The court explained that because the definition of "employee" under copyright law is grounded in the common law of agency and the Reid framework and serves different purposes than do the labor law concepts regarding employment relationships, there is no sound basis for using labor law to override copyright law goals. Furthermore, there was no error in the district court's refusal to treat Miller's WGA membership as a separate Reid factor. The court applied the Reid factors and concluded that Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay and is therefore entitled to authorship rights. The court also concluded that the notice of termination that Miller gave under section 203 of the Copyright Act is effective as to Manny and its successors. The court found that the Companies' remaining arguments did not provide a basis for reversal and thus affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Miller. View "Horror Inc. v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Foundation on its complaint for a declaratory judgment of fair use and the district court's dismissal of defendant's counterclaim for copyright infringement. This case involves visual art works by Andy Warhol based on a 1981 photograph of the musical artist Prince that was taken by defendant, Lynn Goldsmith, in her studio, and in which she holds copyright.The court concluded that the district court erred in its assessment and application of the fair-use factors and that the works in question do not qualify as fair use as a matter of law. In this case, the court considered each of the four factors and found that each favors defendant. Furthermore, although the factors are not exclusive, the Foundation has not identified any additional relevant considerations unique to this case that the court should take into account. The court likewise concluded that the Prince Series works are substantially similar to the Goldsmith Photograph as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Curtis James Jackson III, the hip-hop recording artist known as 50 Cent, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant William Leonard Roberts II, the hip-hop recording artist known as Rick Ross, on the grounds that Jackson's claim of violation of the Connecticut common law right of publicity is preempted by the Copyright Act. The complaint alleged that, on the mixtape entitled Renzel Remixes, Roberts' use of Jackson's voice performing "In Da Club," as well as of Jackson's stage name in the track title identifying that song, violated Jackson's right of publicity under Connecticut common law.The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that Jackson's claim is preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption. In this case, Jackson's Connecticut right of publicity claim does not seek to vindicate any substantial state interests distinct from those furthered by the copyright law, and the policy considerations justifying the doctrine of implied preemption prevail.In the alternative, the court held that Jackson's claim as to the use of his voice on the mixtape is preempted by the express terms of section 301 of the Copyright Act. The court explained that the gravamen of Jackson's right of publicity claim, to the extent it is based on the use of the "In Da Club" sample, is not the use of his identity but rather the use of the copyrighted work itself, and that the focus of his claim therefore comes within the subject matter of copyright. Furthermore, to the extent that Jackson's right of publicity claim is based on the reproduction of a copyrighted work embodying Jackson's voice, that claim is preempted by section 301 because (1) its focus is Roberts' use of a work that falls within the "subject matter of copyright" and (2) it asserts rights that are sufficiently equivalent to the rights protected by federal copyright law. View "Jackson v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's third amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), alleging that defendants violated the Copyright Act by copying creative aspects from his unreleased science fiction videogame, including his use of a tardigrade -- a microscopic animal -- traveling in space, in their television series Star Trek: Discovery.Even assuming that actual copying occurred, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege substantial similarity between protectible elements of his videogame and elements from Discovery. The court explained that, overall, the presence of Ripper the tardigrade in Discovery is minimal, as it only appears in three episodes. Therefore, after extracting the unprotectible elements from plaintiff's videogame -- the scientific facts, general ideas, science fiction themes constituting scènes à faire, and generalized character traits -- the court held that the videogame and Discovery are not substantially similar because the protectible elements are markedly different. View "Anas Osama Ibrahim Abdin v. CBS Broadcasting Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against BuzzFeed for using one of his photographs without crediting him in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The district court awarded plaintiff statutory damages. BuzzFeed appealed, arguing that it did not know its conduct would lead to future, third-party copyright infringement.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's award of statutory damages and held that the plain language of the DMCA does not require plaintiff to prove that BuzzFeed knew its actions would lead to future, third-party infringement. In this case, the district court correctly applied the DMCA by finding that Buzzfeed, through its own journalist, distributed the photo knowing that plaintiff's gutter credit had been removed or altered without his permission and distributed the photo with a gutter credit reading "Fisher & Taubenfeld" knowing that doing so would conceal the fact that a BuzzFeed journalist did not have authority to use the photo. View "Mango v. Buzzfeed, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims under the Copyright Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Plaintiff alleged claims of copyright infringement and copyright management information (CMI) removal based on an underlying controversy involving defendants' promotion of their own version of a honey harvesting product, which replaced one that plaintiff had invented and that defendants had sold for many years through a website defendants owned.The court held that plaintiff was not entitled to statutory damages or attorneys' fees, because the first allegedly infringing act occurred before the date of the copyright registration and no genuine issue of material fact exists concerning this issue. The court also held that plaintiff failed to establish a CMI removal claim under the DMCA, because "Fischer's" cannot be construed as a CMI with respect to the advertising text at issue because it is simply the name of the product being described. View "Fischer v. Forrest" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the Welsh Government's motion to dismiss claims of copyright infringement brought by Pablo Star over two photographs of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his wife, Caitlin Macnamara, on the ground of sovereign immunity. The Welsh Government argued that the commercial-activity exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) does not apply to its conduct promoting Welsh culture and tourism in New York.The court held, however, that the Welsh Government engaged in commercial activity in publicizing Wales-themed events in New York, and that the Welsh Government's activity had substantial contact with the United States. Therefore, Pablo Star's lawsuit falls within an exception to the immunity recognized in the FSIA. View "Pablo Star Ltd. v. The Welsh Government" on Justia Law