Justia Copyright Opinion Summaries
Erickson Productions, Inc. v. Kast
Defendant appealed a jury verdict finding that he vicariously and contributorily infringed Erickson's copyrighted images by displaying them on his website and did so willfully. This case arose when defendant hired a website developer, Only Websites, to redevelop defendant's company website and three photos taken by Erickson were incorporated on the company site. The panel vacated the jury's vicarious liability verdict because Erickson presented no evidence that could constitute a direct financial benefit as a matter of law. However, the panel affirmed the jury's contributory liability verdict and upheld the judgment against defendant, because the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury that "knowledge" for contributory infringement purposes includes having a "reason to know" of the infringement. Finally, the panel vacated the jury's willfulness finding and remanded for a determination of whether defendant's infringement was willful on the existing record. View "Erickson Productions, Inc. v. Kast" on Justia Law
Manhattan Review, LLC v. Yun
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment granting attorneys' fees and costs to defendants under section 505 of the Copyright Act and section 35(a) of the Lanham Act. These provisions authorized the district court to award fees to the prevailing party in a lawsuit. The court held that defendants met the definition of "prevailing party" under both fee-shifting provisions. Although defendants did not obtain a dismissal on the the Copyright and Lanham Acts claims, defendants have fulfilled their primary objective by obtaining dismissal of the complaint on collateral estoppel grounds. View "Manhattan Review, LLC v. Yun" on Justia Law
VHT, Inc. v. Zillow Group, Inc.
VHT filed a copyright infringement suit against Zillow, alleging that Zillow's use of photos on its Listing Platform and Digs exceeded the scope of VHT's licenses to brokers, agents, and listing services who provided those photos to Zillow. The Ninth Circuit held that VHT failed to satisfy its burden of demonstrating that Zillow directly infringed the photos displayed on the Listing Platform, because VHT failed to provide evidence showing that Zillow exercised control; selected any material for upload, download, transmission, or storage; or instigated any copying, storage or distribution of the photos. The panel also held that VHT did not present substantial evidence that Zillow, through the Digs platform, directly infringed its display, reproduction, or adaption rights in 22,109 not displayed photos and 2,093 displayed but non-searchable photos. However, the fair use defense did not absolve Zillow of direct liability for 3,921 displayed, searchable Digs photos. The panel affirmed the district court's grant of Zillow's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to secondary infringement, both contributory and vicarious infringement. In regard to damages, the panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings as to whether the VHT photos remaining at issue were a compilation, and held that substantial evidence did not show Zillow was actually aware of its infringing activity nor was it reckless or willfully blind to its infringement. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "VHT, Inc. v. Zillow Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC
Fourth Estate, a news organization that licensed works to Wall-Street.com, a news website. sued Wall-Street for copyright infringement of articles that Wall-Street failed to remove from its website after canceling the license agreement. Fourth Estate had applied to register the articles with the Copyright Office, but the Register had not acted on those applications. No civil infringement action “shall be instituted until . . . registration of the copyright claim has been made,” 17 U.S.C. 411(a). The Eleventh Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Registration occurs, and a copyright claimant may commence an infringement suit, upon registration; a copyright owner can then recover for infringement that occurred both before and after registration. In limited circumstances, copyright owners may file suit before undertaking registration. For example, an owner who is preparing to distribute a work that is vulnerable to predistribution infringement—e.g., a movie or musical composition—may apply for preregistration; an owner may also sue for infringement of a live broadcast before registration. The Court rejected Fourth Estate’s “application approach” argument that registration occurs when a copyright owner submits a proper application. In 1976 revisions to the Copyright Act, Congress both reaffirmed that registration must precede an infringement suit. The Act safeguards copyright owners by vesting them with exclusive rights upon creation of their works and prohibiting infringement from that point forward. To recover for such infringement, copyright owners must apply for registration and await the Register’s decision. An administrative lag in processing applications does not allow revision of section 411(a)’s congressionally-composed text. View "Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC" on Justia Law
Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc.
A jury awarded Oracle damages after finding that Rimini had infringed Oracle copyrights. The court awarded Oracle fees and costs, including $12.8 million for litigation expenses such as expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, acknowledging that the award covered expenses not included within the six categories of costs identified in 28 U.S.C. 1821 and 1920, and citing the Copyright Act, which gives district courts discretion to award “full costs” to a party in copyright litigation, 17 U.S.C. 505. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed in part. The term “full costs” in the Copyright Act means costs specified in the general costs statute (sections 1821 and 1920), which defines what the term “costs” encompasses in subject-specific federal statutes such as section 505. Courts may not award litigation expenses that are not specified in sections 1821 and 1920 absent explicit authority. The Copyright Act does not explicitly authorize the award of litigation expenses beyond the six categories; the six categories do not authorize an award for expenses such as expert witness fees, e-discovery expenses, and jury consultant fees. Oracle has not shown that the phrase “full costs” had an established legal meaning that covered more than the full amount of the costs listed in the applicable costs schedule. View "Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. Thomas
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
Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc.
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
In re: McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC
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
Wilson v. Dynatone Publishing Co.
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
Overhauser v. Bell
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