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Copyright Case Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff, the developer of the computer code for the original John Madden Football game for the Apple II computer, filed a diversity action against EA, seeking contract damages in the form of unpaid royalties for Sega Madden and Super Nintendo Madden. The court concluded that the district court properly granted judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) to EA under the “intrinsic test” because the jury had no evidence of Apple II Madden or Sega Madden as a whole to enable it to make a subjective comparison. In this case, plaintiff’s claims rest on the contention that the source code of the Sega Madden games infringed on the source code for Apple II Madden. But, none of the source code was in evidence. The jury therefore could not compare the works to determine substantial similarity. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that EA’s post-verdict Rule 50(b) motion for JMOL regarding the intrinsic test should not have been considered. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing the Super Nintendo derivative work claims where the Apple II and Super Nintendo processors have different instruction sizes and data word sizes; the court agreed with the district court that the jury could not have determined plaintiff’s damages from the alleged breach to a reasonable certainty; and even if the district court erred, there was no harm because plaintiff’s failure to introduce any source code precluded a finding that Super Nintendo Madden was a Derivative Work. Finally, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the claim that EA used development aids to create non-derivative works because the claim is unsubstantiated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View “Antonick v. Electronic Arts, Inc.” on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a copyright infringement suit against MP3tunes and its founder and CEO, alleging that two internet music services created by MP3tunes infringed their copyrights in thousands of sound recordings and musical compositions. The district court granted partial summary judgment to defendants, holding that MP3tunes had a reasonably implemented repeat infringer policy under section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512. A jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs, but the district court partially overturned the verdict. The court vacated the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment to defendants based on its conclusion that MP3tunes qualified for safe harbor protection under the DMCA because the district court applied too narrow a definition of “repeat infringer”; reversed the district court’s grant of judgment as a matter of law to defendants on claims that MP3tunes permitted infringement of plaintiffs’ copyrights in pre‐2007 MP3s and Beatles songs because there was sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that MP3tunes had red‐flag knowledge of, or was willfully blind to, infringing activity involving those categories of protected material; remanded for further proceedings related to claims arising out of the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment; and affirmed the judgment in all other respects. View “EMI Christian Music Group, Inc. v. MP3tunes, LLC” on Justia Law

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In this copyright infringement suit, plaintiffs challenged the district court’s determination that defendants’ verbatim use of a portion of Abbott and Costello’s iconic comedy routine, “Who’s on First?,” in the recent Broadway play “Hand to God,” qualified as a non‐infringing fair use. The court concluded that defendants’ entitlement to a fair use defense was not so clearly established on the face of the amended complaint and its incorporated exhibits as to support dismissal. In this case, defendants’ verbatim use of the routine was not transformative, defendants failed persuasively to justify their use of the routine, defendants’ use of some dozen of the routine’s variations of “who’s on first” was excessive in relation to any dramatic purpose, and plaintiffs alleged an active secondary market for the work, which was not considered by the district court. The court concluded, however, that the dismissal is warranted because plaintiffs failed to plausibly plead ownership of a valid copyright. The court found plaintiffs’ efforts to do so on theories of assignment, work‐for‐hire, and merger all fail as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View “TCA Television Corp. v. McCollum” on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the widow of Louis K. Smith, who authored and copyrighted a book entitled “The Hardscrabble Zone,” filed suit alleging direct and contributory copyright infringement by Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble, under license, uploads books and book samples to digital “lockers” that it maintains for its individual customers. When the license granted by Smith was terminated, Barnes & Noble did not delete a sample of Smith’s book. The court concluded that, because the agreement does not provide for the license in the sample to terminate after the sample has been distributed, plaintiff cannot sustain her burden to prove that providing cloud‐based access to validly obtained samples is beyond the scope of the license agreement. Therefore, the court concluded that the conduct at issue was authorized by the relevant contracts between the parties and affirmed the judgment. View “Smith v. Barnesandnoble.com, LLC” on Justia Law

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This dispute stems from plaintiff’s attempt to protect his copyright in photographs of Pablo Picasso’s artworks after an American art editor (Wofsy) reproduced the photographic images. Plaintiff received a judgment in French court of two million euros in “astreinte” against Wofsy. Plaintiff then sought to enforce the judgment in federal court in California under the California Uniform Foreign-Court Monetary Judgment Recognition Act, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 1713 et seq. The court held that Fed. R. Civ. P. 44.1 authorizes district courts to consider foreign legal materials outside the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss because Rule 44.1 treats foreign law determinations as questions of law, not fact. In this case, the district court did not err in considering expert declarations on the content of French law in ruling on Wofsy’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The court concluded that the district court erred in concluding that “the award of an astreinte in this case constitutes a penalty for purposes of the [Uniform Recognition Act].” The court held that the astreinte awarded by the French courts to plaintiff falls within the Uniform Recognition Act as a judgment that “[g]rants . . . a sum of money.” In this case, the astreinte was not a “fine or other penalty” for purposes of the Act, and accordingly the district court erred in concluding otherwise. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded. View “De Fontbrune v. Wofsy” on Justia Law