Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries

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In 2012, Smith, a recording artist called Bigg Robb, wrote and recorded “Looking for a Country Girl” and registered his copyright. Thomas, called Bishop Bullwinkle, another Southern Soul musician, used the first 12 seconds of "Looking" as the beat for a new song, Hell 2 Da Naw Naw, without Smith’s permission or giving Smith credit. When the two were performing at the same venue, Smith, in his dressing room, “heard one of [his] songs playing” and rushed out to see Thomas performing Hell 2. Smith confronted Thomas, who admitted to sampling. As the two negotiated, Hell 2 went viral. Thomas uploaded a music video, which got millions of views, and articles were written about his “meteoric rise.” Eventually, Thomas stopped acknowledging Smith’s contribution. He publicly accused Smith of being a liar. Smith sued. Both parties represented themselves. Thomas did not appear at trial: he only filed a two-page answer to Smith’s complaint and two short conclusory letters. He ignored discovery requests. Smith gave a thorough presentation with supporting exhibits and played both songs. Smith explained that he had only a “guesstimation” of damages based on Hell 2’s YouTube views and Thomas’s public performances. The court awarded him 50% ownership rights in Hell 2 (and any derivatives) and enjoined Thomas from further infringement; found that Smith had not presented sufficient evidence to show actual damages but had “elected” statutory damages, 17 U.S.C. 504(c), and awarded Smith $30,000, substantially less than he requested. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Smith made multiple statements that clearly indicated his intent to seek statutory damages. View "Smith v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed the district court's judgment for plaintiffs, finding copyright infringement. Defendants created an Internet platform designed to enable the lawful resale, under the first sale doctrine, of lawfully purchased digital music files, and had hosted resales of such files on the platform. The Second Circuit held that defendants infringed plaintiffs' exclusive rights under 17 U.S.C. 106(1) to reproduce their copyrighted works. In this case, the operation of ReDigi version 1.0 in effectuating a resale resulted in the making of at least one unauthorized reproduction. Such unauthorized reproduction violated the right holder's exclusive reproduction rights under section 106(1) and was not excused as fair use. The court declined to make a decision as to whether ReDigi also infringed plaintiffs' exclusive rights under 17 U.S.C. 106(3) to distribute their works. View "Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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Under the circumstances of this case, copyright registration, without more, does not trigger accrual of an ownership claim under section 205(c) of the Copyright Act. The Second Circuit denied a petition for rehearing in a dispute over ownership of the renewal term copyrights of certain musical compositions and sound recordings. The court had previously vacated the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss for untimeliness under section 205(c) and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilson v. Dynatone Publishing Co." on Justia Law

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Bell sued Vacuforce for copyright infringement, accusing it of publishing his photograph of the Indianapolis skyline on its website without a license. Vacuforce hired attorney Overhauser. The parties quickly settled; the federal lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. Overhauser then moved to recover attorney fees from Bell, arguing that because the settlement produced a dismissal with prejudice, Vacuforce was the “prevailing party” for purposes of fees under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 505. The district court denied Overhauser’s as motion frivolous and misleading and ordered monetary sanctions against Overhauser: one under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and another under 28 U.S.C. 1927. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sanctions, rejecting an argument that a party can “prevail” for purposes of a fee-shifting statute by paying a settlement and obtaining a dismissal with prejudice. The district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing the section 1927 sanction. “Objective bad faith” will support such a sanction. A lawyer demonstrates objective bad faith when she “pursues a path that a reasonably careful attorney would have known, after appropriate inquiry, to be unsound.” The district court found that Overhauser’s legal contentions were baseless and that he failed to disclose the proper factual foundation necessary to evaluate his legal argument. View "Overhauser v. Bell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, three publishing houses, alleged that members of the Board of Regents at GSU infringed their copyrights by maintaining a policy which allows GSU professors to make digital copies of excerpts of plaintiffs' books available to students without paying plaintiffs. At issue on appeal was whether the district court misinterpreted the Eleventh Circuit's mandate in an earlier appeal and misapplied the defense of fair use. The court held that the district court erred when it made its new findings of fair use, but the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to reopen the record. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order denying the publishers' request to reopen the record, but vacated the judgment entered on remand. Finally, the court vacated the district court's award of attorney's fees and costs and the underlying determination that the University was the prevailing party. View "Cambridge University Press v. Albert" on Justia Law

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The annotations contained in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), authored by the Georgia General Assembly and made an inextricable part of the official codification of Georgia's laws, may not be copyrighted by the State of Georgia. The Eleventh Circuit held that the annotations in the OCGA are sufficiently law-like so as to be properly regarded as sovereign work; the People are the ultimate authors of the annotations; and as a work of the People, the annotations are inherently public domain material and uncopyrightable. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and directed the judgment be entered for PRO, vacated the district court's order granting Georgia injunctive relief, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Code Revision Commissioner v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment for Led Zeppelin in a copyright infringement suit alleging that Led Zeppelin copied "Stairway to Heaven" from the song "Taurus," written by Spirit band member Randy Wolfe. The panel held that several of the district court's jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial. Therefore, the panel remanded for a new trial. The panel also held that the scope of copyright protection for an unpublished work under the Copyright Act of 1909 is defined by the deposit copy, and the sound recordings of "Taurus" as performed by Spirit could not be used to prove substantial similarity. The panel also held that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing recordings of "Taurus" to be played for the purpose of demonstrating access. Finally, the district court was well within its discretion when it chose to exclude expert testimony on the basis of a conflict of interest. The panel vacated and remanded the district court's denial of defendants' motions for attorneys' fees and costs. View "Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the Copyright Royalty Board's most recent determination for rates noninteractive webcasters must pay to play recordings over the Internet under a statutory copyright license. The DC Circuit sustained the Board's determinations in all respects and held that the Board's acceptance of the Pandora and iHeart benchmark agreements was not arbitrary and capricious; the court applied Chevron deference to the Board's adjustment downward of SoundExchange's proposed benchmark; the Board adequately and reasonably explained its decision to set different rates for ad-based and subscription noninteractive webcasting services; and the court rejected SoundExchange's challenge concerning the Board's decision to amend a license term setting forth the requirements to qualify as an auditor that can verify royalty payments. Finally, the Board rejected a pro se appellant's challenge concerning the constitutionality of the Board's determination. View "SoundExchange, Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Board and Librarian of Congress" on Justia Law

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Sports photographers filed suit seeking to recover damages on copyright, contract, and tort theories of liability after the NFL exploited thousands of their photographs without a license and without compensation. The photographers also brought an antitrust challenge alleging that the NFL and AP conspired to restrain trade in the market for commercial licenses of NFL event photographs. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Second Circuit held that the photographers' allegations plausibly supported an inference that before the 2012 AP-NFL agreement was signed, AP had not granted the NFL a complimentary license to use the photographers' works, and the NFL knew it. The court vacated the photographers' claims for copyright infringement against AP and the NFL relating to the NFL's use of photographs from 2009 to present; claims for copyright infringement against AP, the NFL, and Replay relating to uses of the photographs in connection with the Replay Photo Store; claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against AP; and claims for fraud against AP. The court affirmed in all other respects and remanded for further proceedings. View "Spinelli v. National Football League" on Justia Law