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Copyright Case Opinion Summaries

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Conrad, the “Banana Lady,” a self‐employed singer and dancer, performs in a giant banana costume. After performing a “singing telegram” at a credit union trade association event, she sued, charging infringements of intellectual property rights. Although Conrad claims that she stated that her performance was not to be recorded, except for “personal use,” photos were posted on websites. The district judge dismissed, finding most of the claims precluded by an earlier Wisconsin state court suit, also dismissed. The judge rejected a claim of copyright infringement, over which federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction, on the merits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first questioning Conrad’s copyright on the costume, because similar costumes are a common consumer product. The performance was not copyrightable, not being “fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” 17 U.S.C. 102(a). While she has the exclusive right to create or license reproductions of and derivative works from works that she has validly copyrighted, 17 U.S.C. 106(1), (2), it is unlikely that the photos and videos were derivative works. The Act forbids unauthorized recording of a musical performance, 17 U.S.C. 1101(a), and unauthorized display of copyrighted musical or choreographic work, section 106(5), but she did not cite either provision. The court noted Conrad’s “incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits” and suggested that the lower courts “consider enjoining her from filing further suits until she pays her litigation debts.” View “Conrad v. AM Cmty Credit Union,” on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against publisher Wiley under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., based on Wiley’s publication of textbooks containing eight of plaintiff’s photographs. The district court concluded that the applicable three-year statute of limitations barred none of plaintiff’s infringement claims because plaintiff, exercising reasonable diligence, did not discover the infringements until fewer than three years prior to bringing the suit. Nonetheless, the district court granted Wiley’s motion for summary judgment as to several of the infringement claims on the ground that plaintiff had failed to register the relevant photographs with the Copyright Office prior to instituting suit pursuant to section 411(a). The court held that copyright infringement claims did not accrue until actual or constructive discovery of the relevant infringement and that the Act’s statute of limitations did not bar any of plaintiff’s infringement claims; the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims relating to the Narcoleptic Dog and Dinamation photos where the district court acted within its discretion to partially deny plaintiff leave to amend his complaint; the court discerned no error in the district court’s denial of Wiley’s motion for remittitur or a new trial; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to alter the jury’s award of statutory damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View “Psihoyos v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.” on Justia Law

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Lexmark sells the only type of toner cartridges that work with its laser printers; remanufacturers acquire and refurbish used Lexmark cartridges to sell in competition with Lexmark’s new and refurbished cartridges. Lexmark’s “Prebate” program gives customers a discount on new cartridges if they agree to return empty cartridges to the company. Every Prebate cartridge has a microchip that disables the empty cartridge unless Lexmark replaces the chip. Static Control makes and sells components for cartridge remanufacture and developed a microchip that mimicked Lexmark’s. Lexmark sued for copyright infringement. Static Control counterclaimed that Lexmark engaged in false or misleading advertising under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and caused Static Control lost sales and damage to its business reputation. The district court held that Static Control lacked “prudential standing,” applying a multifactor balancing test. The Sixth Circuit reversed, applying a “reasonable interest” test. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. The Court stated that the issue was not “prudential standing.” Whether a plaintiff comes within a statute’s zone of interests requires traditional statutory interpretation. The Lanham Act includes in its statement of purposes, “protect[ing] persons engaged in [commerce within the control of Congress] against unfair competition.” “Unfair competition” is concerned with injuries to business reputation and sales. A section 1125(a) plaintiff must show that its injury flows directly from the deception caused by the defendant’s advertising; that occurs when deception causes consumers to withhold trade from the plaintiff. The zone-of-interests test and the proximate-cause requirement identify who may sue under section 1125(a) and provide better guidance than the multi-factor balancing test, the direct-competitor test, or the reasonable-interest test. Static Control comes within the class of plaintiffs authorized to sue under section 1125(a). Its alleged injuries fall within the zone of interests protected by the Act, and it sufficiently alleged that its injuries were proximately caused by Lexmark’s misrepresentations. View “Lexmark Int’l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc.” on Justia Law

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Plaintiff–Appellant Hornady Manufacturing Company, Inc., appealed a district court order granting summary judgment to Defendant–Appellee DoubleTap, Inc., on Hornady’s trademark infringement claims. Hornady manufactured and sold firearm ammunition and related products. Since 1997, Hornady sold various products under the name “TAP,” short for “Tactical Application Police.” Hornady acquired trademark registration for the nonstylized word mark, “TAP.” Photographs in the record indicated that the packaging for Hornady’s products conspicuously features the TAP mark, both as a stand-alone mark and as incorporated within a shield resembling a police officer’s badge. DoubleTap has been described as a “niche” ammunition manufacturer. Photographs in the record indicated that, as of 2006, packaging for DoubleTap’s products displayed its mark as two separate words, “Double Tap,” within a blue oval and flanked to the left by two bullet holes. Both parties moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on whether DoubleTap infringed on Hornady’s TAP mark. Reviewing the record de novo, the Tenth Circuit held hold that two factors, strength of the mark and similarity of products and marketing, favored Hornady. The remaining four factors favored DoubleTap. “The tilt of the scales does not determine the issue. However, the key inquiry, the similarity of the marks, strongly favors DoubleTap.” Hornady failed to raise a genuine factual issue regarding the likelihood of confusion, and the district court properly awarded summary judgment to DoubleTap. View “Hornady Manufacturing Co. v. Doubletap” on Justia Law

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Alaska Stock, a stock photography agency, registered large numbers of photographs at a time under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., listing only some of the authors and not listing titles for each photograph. After Houghton Mifflin greatly exce…