Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
WILL CO., LTD. V. KA LEE
Will Co. Ltd., a Japanese adult entertainment producer, brought a copyright infringement action against the owners and operators of ThisAV.com, a video-hosting site based in Hong Kong, alleging that the site was displaying without authorization several of its copyrighted works. The district court found that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over ThisAV.com’s owners and operators because Will Co. could not establish that they “expressly aimed” ThisAV.com’s content at the United States market, or that it was foreseeable that operating the site would cause jurisdictionally significant harm in the United States. Defendants were Youhaha Marketing and Promotion Limited (“YMP”) and Ka Yeung Lee.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a copyright suit for lack of specific personal jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The panel concluded that both YMP and Lee committed at least one intentional act by operating ThisAV.com and purchasing its domain name and domain privacy services. As to the second element, both Defendants did “something more” than mere passive operation of the website. As to the third element, Defendants’ conduct caused harm in the United States because there were almost 1.3 million visits to their website in the United States during the relevant period, and that harm was foreseeable. View "WILL CO., LTD. V. KA LEE" on Justia Law
Allen Beaulieu v. Clint Stockwell
Plaintiff, Prince’s photographer, claims his former collaborators and a potential investor in a book project kept his photographs and used them without permission. He sued. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants on all claims. Plaintiff appealed. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. Beaulieu appeals the judgment and the costs awarded to Defendant. Plaintiff presented two possible theories of conversion. The first is an ongoing conversion, that the collaborators still have his photos. The second is a technical conversion, that the collaborators kept his photos for several months after he demanded their return. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained Plaintiff has not given a firm inventory of how many photos he believes are missing. An extensive forensic protocol did not identify any of his materials in their possession or any wrongful use. Plaintiff provides nothing more than speculation and suspicion against Defendants. While Plaintiff has a method for counting the total number of his photos, this is not sufficient to substantiate his allegations. Further, in regards to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim, the court explained silence, coupled with continued and normal interactions between him and the collaborators, implied his approval of the marketing plan and the corresponding distribution of his images, and thus showed an implied license. Finally, the court wrote that since Defendants prevailed in showing there was no issue of material fact about the conversion claim or the copyright claim, they also prevail on the tortious interference claim because there is no underlying improper conduct. View "Allen Beaulieu v. Clint Stockwell" on Justia Law
ACT, Inc. v. Worldwide Interactive Network, Inc.
ACT publishes “WorkKeys”—“a system of workforce-development assessments that measure skills affecting job performance” and “Skill Definitions,” descriptions of the skills tested by each assessment. ACT collaborated with WIN to promulgate those assessments, from 1997-2011. The contractual relationship ended in 2011. WIN developed and promoted its own career-readiness-assessment materials. In 2017, ACT contracted with the South Carolina Department of Education and Workforce to provide its WorkKeys assessments to state employers. The state later solicited competing bids for new assessments, ultimately awarding the contract to WIN. WIN’s “Learning Objectives” for Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information assessments were virtually indistinguishable from ACT’s Skill Definitions. ACT sued.The district court granted ACT partial summary judgment on copyright claims. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused prolonged delays in the litigation, WIN enlisted an education consultant to revise its product. The court ordered ACT to amend its complaint to include allegations about the revised Learning Objectives. WIN then unsuccessfully tried to assert a new defense: derivative sovereign immunity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction, restraining WIN from knowingly infringing ACT’s copyrights in its Skill Definitions, 17 U.S.C. 106, barring WIN from distributing the original and revised Learning Objectives and WIN’s corresponding assessments. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the imposition (and scope) of that preliminary injunction and the rejection, as untimely, of WIN’s argument that because WIN designed the Learning Objectives to bid on state contracts, it was entitled to assert state sovereign immunity. View "ACT, Inc. v. Worldwide Interactive Network, Inc." on Justia Law
Victor Elias Photography, LLC v. Ice Portal, Inc.
Plaintiff, a commercial photographer, discovered infringing uses of his copyrighted images on the internet. Instead of pursuing the infringing parties, Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against Ice Portal, Inc. – now a division of Shiji (US), Inc. (“Shiji”) – which acts as an intermediary between the hotels that licensed Plaintiff’s photographs and online travel agents (“OTAs”) like Expedia and Travelocity.In optimizing the photographs for use by the OTAs, Shiji’s software allegedly removed certain copyright-related information that Plaintiff had embedded within the metadata of the photographs. Defendant claimed that Shiji, therefore, violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). The district court correctly granted summary judgment to Shiji because Plaintiff did not show an essential element of its claim – namely, that Shiji knew, or had reasonable grounds to know, that its actions would induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal a copyright infringement. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that Plaintiff did not meet its burden of coming forward with sufficient evidence demonstrating Section 1202(b)’s second scienter requirement, and judgment in Shiji’s favor was therefore appropriate. The court explained that the statute’s plain language requires some identifiable connection between the defendant’s actions and the infringement or the likelihood of infringement. To hold otherwise would create a standard under which the defendant would always know that its actions would “induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal” infringement because distributing protected images wrongly cleansed of CMI would always make infringement easier in some general sense. View "Victor Elias Photography, LLC v. Ice Portal, Inc." on Justia Law
ELLIOT MCGUCKEN V. PUB OCEAN LIMITED
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
LANG VAN, INC. V. VNG CORPORATION
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
STARZ ENTERTAINMENT, LLC V. MGM DOMESTIC TELEVISION DISTR.
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
Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company
Beatriz Ball, LLC, is a Louisiana company doing business as Beatriz Ball and Beatriz Ball Collection. Barbagallo Company, LLC is a New Jersey company doing business as Pampa Bay. Plaintiff alleged that Pampa Bay has been marketing and distributing products that infringe on Beatriz Ball’s registered copyrights and its unregistered trade dress for its “Organic Pearl” line of tableware. Plaintiff challenged the district court’s conclusions that (1) the company lacked standing under the Copyright Act because the plaintiff did not obtain a valid assignment of its claim, and (2) it failed to establish a protectable trade dress under the Lanham Act. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court erred in its standing determination and that certain errors in its analysis of the trade dress claim require reconsideration by the district court. The court explained that whether Beatriz Ball’s trade dress has acquired secondary meaning is considered a question of fact reviewed on appeal for clear error. Here, the record indicates that the district court clearly erred in analyzing three of the factors: volume of sales, the nature of the use of Organic Pearl trade dress in newspapers and magazines, and the defendant’s intent in copying the trade dress. Ultimately, a visual comparison of Pampa Bay’s products to the Organic Pearl line makes it difficult to deny that there was intent to copy. The designs are not just alike, they are indistinguishable in some cases. Thus, the sum of errors in the district court’s analysis of secondary meaning requires reconsideration of the evidence and overall re-weighing of the factors. View "Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company" on Justia Law
Pyrotechnics Management Inc v. XFX Pyrotechnics LLC
Pyrotechnics manufactures and sells hardware (a control panel and a field module) and software that control fireworks displays under the “FireOne” brand. Since around 1995, Pyrotechnics’s hardware has used a proprietary protocol. Pyrotechnics’s Romanian competitor, fireTEK, reverse-engineered Pyrotechnics’s hardware to learn its communication protocol. In 2018, fireTEK developed a router that could send analog signals to Pyrotechnics’s field module just like those sent by Pyrotechnics’s control panel.; fireTEK promoted its router as a replacement for Pyrotechnics’s control panel. Pyrotechnics filed a seven-page document describing its protocol (Deposit Copy) with the U.S. Copyright Office and received a Certificate of Registration, indicating the copyrighted work is “text.” Pyrotechnics asserts that it submitted the Deposit Copy as “identifying material” for its protocol under 37 C.F.R. 202.20(c)(2)(viii). Pyrotechnics claims the protocol was first published when it was embedded inside its hardware in 1995.Pyrotechnics sued fireTEK for copyright infringement, tortious interference with prospective contractual relations, and unfair competition, 17 U.S.C. 411(a). The district court entered an injunction. The Third Circuit vacated, finding the copyright invalid. Pyrotechnics’s digital message format is an uncopyrightable idea and the individual digital messages described in the Deposit Copy are insufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection. View "Pyrotechnics Management Inc v. XFX Pyrotechnics LLC" on Justia Law
Peretti v. Authentic Brands Group, LLC
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