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Copyright Case Opinion Summaries

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Leonard takes photographs of stem cells using electron microscopes. Only a few photographers engage in this highly technical type of photography. The images first appear in black and white, and Leonard uses his “artistic judgment” to enhance the photos in color. Leonard created the images at issue in the 1990s but did not register them with the Copyright Office until 2007, when he planned to file suit. Stemtech “formulates” and sells nutritional supplement products through thousands of distributors. In 2006, Stemtech contacted Leonard about using Image for its internal magazine and its website. Stemtech declined to license the image for website use because the price was too high but used the image twice in its magazine. Leonard billed Stemtech $950 but was only paid $500. Stemtech then used the images without a license in its other promotional materials, including websites, In 2007, Leonard discovered his images on numerous Stemtech-affiliated websites. He took screenshots of and archived the webpages and retained copies of emails he sent to the contacts on various sites. When Stemtech refused Leonard’s requests, Leonard filed suit for copyright infringement. A jury returned a $1.6 million verdict in Leonard’s favor. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to various rulings, but vacated the district court’s denial of Leonard’s request for pre-judgment interest. View “Leonard v. Stemtech Int’l, Inc” on Justia Law

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Plaintiff suit against Live Nation asserting claims for copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., and removal of copyright management information (CMI) under 17 U.S.C. 1202. Live Nation stipulated in the district court that it infringed plaintiff’s copyrights when it used his photos of Run-DMC without his authorization on t-shirts and a calendar. The district court granted summary judgment for Live Nation on plaintiff’s claims. The court concluded that, drawing all inferences in plaintiff’s favor, the evidence in the record gave rise to a triable issue of fact as to Live Nation’s willfulness. Therefore, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment as to this issue. The court also reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claim under section 1202(b) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 1202(b). In this case, the court concluded that the record creates a triable issue of fact as to whether Live Nation distributed plaintiff’s photographs with the requisite knowledge. How Live Nation came to possess plaintiff’s photographs – and thus whether it had knowledge that the CMI had been removed – is a fact “particularly within” Live Nation’s knowledge. It would be unfair to burden plaintiff at the summary judgment stage with proving that knowledge with greater specificity than he did. Finally, the court held that the provision, in Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act, of separate statutory damage awards for the infringement of each work “for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally” applies only to parties who have been determined jointly and severally liable in the course of the liability determinations in the case for the infringements adjudicated in the action. Because plaintiff did not join any of his alleged downstream infringers as defendants in this case, the district court correctly held that he was limited to one award per work infringed by Live Nation. View “Friedman v. Live Nation Merchandise” on Justia Law

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In 1984, Jesus Muhammad‐Ali painted a portrait of the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Ali later testified that his agreement with Farrakhan included only the portrait, not lithographs, and that Farrakhan never asked him to produce lithographs. In 2013, Ali sued Final Call, a newspaper that describes itself as the “propagation arm of the Nation of Islam,” for copyright infringement. Final Call admittedly had sold 115 copies of a lithograph of Ali’s Farrakhan portrait, but claimed it had authority to do so. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment in favor of Final Call. The law places the burden of proof on the party asserting license or authorization. Ali proved all he was required to prove, a prima facie case of infringement. A plaintiff is not required to prove that the defendant’s copying was unauthorized in order to state a prima facie case of copyright infringement. View “Ali v. Final Call, Inc.” on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a composer and music producer, filed a copyright suit against Sony, Razor Sharp Records, and Dennis Coles, a/k/a Ghostface Killah, to enforce plaintiff’s claimed ownership rights in the “Iron Man” theme song. The district court determined that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that Marvel was, in fact, the copyright owner. Therefore, the district court dismissed plaintiff’s New York common law claims for copyright infringement, unfair competition, and misappropriation on the basis that those claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq. The court held that, although the district court properly determined that defendants had standing to raise a “work for hire” defense to plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim, the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff failed to raise issues of material fact with respect to his ownership of the copyright; the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s state law claims as preempted by the Copyright Act; the court vacated the district court’s summary judgment ruling with respect to plaintiff’s Copyright Act claim and remanded for further proceedings; and the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s state law claims. View “Urbont v. Sony Music Entm’t” on Justia Law

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Bell sued several defendants for copyright infringement, alleging that they impermissibly displayed a photo of the Indianapolis skyline that belongs to Bell on websites promoting their respective businesses. With respect to one defendant, Bell misidentified the photograph. As for the other defendants, the court concluded that although Bell had established ownership of the photo, he had failed to prove damages: Bell had not demonstrated the photo’s fair market value, nor had he shown that defendants profited from their use of his photo. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on both damages and injunctive and declaratory relief. Bell filed a second copyright infringement lawsuit against some of the defendants in the same court. The district court dismissed the second case based on res judicata. The Seventh Circuit affirmed both decisions, noting that the photographs were removed from the websites long ago and that the websites no longer exist. The second lawsuit involved a common core of operative facts. View “Bell v. Taylor” on Justia Law