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Copyright Case Opinion Summaries

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Tyrone Simmons, a writer and performer of hip hop music, filed suit against hip hop producer William C. Stanberry, Jr., rapper 50 Cent, and various corporate entities involved in the production and distribution of the 2007 song, “I Get Money…

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Plaintiff Savant Home, Inc., a custom home designer and builder, held a registered copyright to a floor plan of a three-bedroom ranch house (“Anders Plan”). Savant built a model house embodying that plan in Windsor, Colorado (“Savant house”). In June 2009, Ron and Tammie Wagner toured the Savant house and hired builder Douglas Collins and his firm, Douglas Consulting, LLC (jointly, “Collins”) to build a house. Collins, in turn, contracted with Stewart King to design the house. After Collins and Mr. King completed the Wagners’ house, Ms. Wagner hired them to build a second house. Savant sued Collins for copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, civil conspiracy, trade dress infringement, and other claims, alleging defendants copied the Anders Plan by building the two houses. The district court granted Defendants summary judgment on two grounds: (1) Savant failed to offer evidence of inherent distinctiveness or secondary meaning and (2) no reasonable jury could find a likelihood of confusion. Savant appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court as to the first ground and therefore did not address the second. View “Savant Homes v. Collins” on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a copyright dispute between Adobe and defendant and his software company, SSI. The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of both Adobe’s copyright and trademark claims. Although a copyright holder enjoys broad privileges protecting the exclusive right to distribute a work, the first sale doctrine serves as an important exception to that right. Under this doctrine, once a copy of a work is lawfully sold or transferred, the new owner has the right “to sell or otherwise dispose of” that copy without the copyright owner’s permission. In this case, the court concluded that the district court correctly held that Adobe established its registered copyrights in the disputed software and that defendant carried his burden of showing that he lawfully acquired genuine copies of Adobe’s software, but that Adobe failed to produce the purported license agreements or other evidence to document that it retained title to the software when the copies were first transferred. The district court did not abuse its discretion in granting defendant’s motion to strike and excluding evidence purporting to document the licenses. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly analyzed the trademark claim under the nominative fair use defense to a trademark infringement claim instead of under the unfair competition rubric. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View “Adobe Systems, Inc. v. Christenson” on Justia Law

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This dispute involves two Tejano songs: “Triste Aventurera” and “Cartas de Amor.” Plaintiff filed suit against Hacienda alleging, inter alia, that Hacienda’s release of “Cartas” infringed upon his “Triste” copyright. The district court ruled in favor of Hacienda as to each of plaintiff’s claims. The court rejected plaintiff’s contention that the district court erred in finding no reasonable possibility of access. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to show that the district court’s access finding was clearly erroneous. The court also concluded that, absent evidence of uniqueness or complexity, and in light of the expert testimony at trial describing differences in the lyrics and music of the songs, the district court’s finding that “Cartas” and “Triste” are not strikingly similar was not clearly erroneous; the court rejected plaintiff’s invitation to apply a novel “sliding-scale” analysis that would have lowered his access burden; and plaintiff waived his Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 1202(a), claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View “Guzman v. Hacienda Records and Recording” on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a copyright dispute over the 2012 motion picture “Killer Joe.” Plaintiff filed suit against defendant for copyright infringement and defendant counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment. The district court dismissed the suit, dismissed the counterclaim as moot, and denied defendant’s requests for attorney’s fees and to make a record. Defendant appealed. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant attorney fees because plaintiff may properly sue “John Doe” to ascertain an ISP subscriber and because plaintiff promptly dismissed its lawsuit once it learned defendant was not the infringer and thus had proper motives to sue the subscriber. Further, defendant cites to no authority that a party’s financial status affects whether attorney’s fees under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 505, should be awarded. Therefore, it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to fail explicitly to consider the factor of financial status. The court rejected defendant’s remaining claims and affirmed the judgment. View “Killer Joe Nevada v. Leaverton” on Justia Law