Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
by
The parties dispute the validity of a copyright in a full-body banana costume. The Third Circuit applied the Supreme Court's decision in Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 1002 (2017), and held that the banana costume's combination of colors, lines, shape, and length (i.e., its artistic features) are both separable and capable of independent existence, and thus are copyrightable. The court held that the merger doctrine did not apply in this case, because copyrighting Rasta's banana costume would not effectively monopolize the underlying idea because there are many other ways to make a costume resemble a banana. Furthermore, the scenes a faire doctrine was inapplicable. Therefore, the district court did not err when it held that Rasta was reasonably likely to prove ownership of a valid copyright. View "Silvertop Associates Inc. v. Kangaroo Manufacturing Inc." on Justia Law

by
Hill built Commerce Bank from a single commercial bank location in 1973 by emphasizing customer loyalty through initiatives such as extended hours, quick account openings, and free perks. His success brought personal acclaim. The relationship between Hill and Commerce soured, culminating in Hill’s 2007 termination and TD Bank’s acquisition of Commerce for $8.5 billion. The publication of a book Hill had written during his Commerce tenure was canceled. In 2012, Hill wrote a new book. TD filed a copyright lawsuit alleging that parts of the 2012 book infringe the earlier book. In enjoining Hill from publishing or marketing his book, the district court concluded that TD owned the copyright under a letter agreement and that Hill’s book irreparably violated its “right to not use the copyright.” The Third Circuit vacated the injunction, reasoning that the district court had made “sweeping conclusions” that would justify the issuance of an injunction in every copyright case. Instead of employing “categorical rule[s]” that would resolve the propriety of injunctive relief “in a broad swath of cases,” courts should issue injunctive relief only upon a sufficient showing that such relief is warranted under particular circumstances. Although the agreement between the parties did not vest initial ownership of the copyright by purporting to designate the manuscript a work “for hire,” it did transfer any ownership interest Hill possessed to TD, so Hill’s co-ownership defense fails. View "TD Bank NA v. Hill" on Justia Law

by
The Photographers entered into representation agreements with Corbis, a photography agency, providing Corbis authority to sub-license their works to third parties on a non-exclusive, fixed-duration basis. The agreements include forum selection clauses and give Corbis sole authority to make and settle claims for unauthorized use of images. If Corbis declines to bring such a claim within 60 days, the Photographers may bring actions. Corbis sub-licensed their photographs to McGraw-Hill. The invoices included the name of the photographer responsible for the work and incorporated Corbis’ standard “Terms and Conditions,” which included mandatory, exclusive forum selection clauses. The Photographers each brought a copyright action against McGraw-Hill in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. McGraw-Hill moved to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a), arguing that the disputes implicate the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements, under which the proper venue was the Southern District of New York. One judge denied the motion, reasoning that the claims are based purely on copyright law, so the action is not a “dispute regarding th[e] Agreement[s],” and not subject to the forum selection clauses. Another judge reasoned that the copyright claims depend upon the interpretation of the Corbis–McGraw-Hill agreements so that the photographer was subject to the forum selection clause as an intended third-party beneficiary. In consolidated actions, the Third Circuit concluded that the photographers are not bound because they are not intended beneficiaries of the agreements, nor are they closely related parties. Because the erring district court’s mistakes were not clear or indisputable, the court declined to grant mandamus relief. View "In re: McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In 2005, Tanksley, a Philadelphia actor and producer, created a three-episode television pilot, Cream, for which he received a copyright. In 2015, Fox Television debuted a new series, Empire, from award-winning producer and director Lee Daniels. Tanksley sued, claiming that Empire infringed on his copyright of Cream. The district court found no substantial similarity between the two shows and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. Superficial similarities notwithstanding, Cream and Empire are not substantially similar as a matter of law. The shared premise of the shows—an African-American, male record executive— is unprotectable. These characters fit squarely within the class of “prototypes” to which copyright protection has never extended. Considering the protectable elements of Cream, “no reasonable jury, properly instructed, could find that the two works are substantially similar.” View "Tanksley v. Daniels" on Justia Law