What's New

Copyright Case Opinion Summaries

Published on:

The “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of a “design of a useful article” are eligible for copyright protection as artistic works if those features “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article,” 17 U.S.C. 101. Plaintiffs have copyright registrations for two-dimensional designs, consisting of lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes, appearing on cheerleading uniforms that they design, make, and sell. They sued a competitor for infringement. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated. That test is satisfied here. The feature cannot be a useful article or “[a]n article that is normally a part of a useful article,” nor the replica of a useful article in another medium. While plaintiffs have no right to prevent anyone from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform that is identical in shape, cut, or dimensions to the uniforms at issue here, an artistic feature that is eligible for copyright protection on its own does not lose that protection simply because it was first created as a feature of the design of a useful article, even if it makes that article more useful. View “Star Athletica, L. L. C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc.” on Justia Law

Published on:

Plaintiffs, a group of broadcast stations and copyright holders, filed suit against FilmOn X, an operator of a service that uses antennas to capture over-the-air broadcast programming, much of it copyrighted, and then uses the Internet to retransmit such programming to paying subscribers, all without the consent or authorization of the copyright holders. Under section 111 of the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 111(c), a “cable system” is eligible for a so-called compulsory license that allows it to retransmit “a performance or display of a work” that had originally been broadcast by someone else—even if such material is copyrighted—without having to secure the consent of the copyright holder. So long as the cable system pays a statutory fee to the Copyright Office and complies with certain other regulations, it is protected from infringement liability. The district court granted partial summary judgment to FilmOn. The Copyright Office determined that Internet-based retransmission services were not eligible for the compulsory license under section 111. The court deferred to the Office’s interpretation because it was persuasive and reasonable. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View “Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Aereokiller LLC” on Justia Law

Published on:

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court. Arthur and Barbara Sheridan owned several pre-1972 master sound recordings of certain popular songs, as well as the associated intellectual property and contract rights. iHeartMedia operated AM/FM radio stations, as well as internet radio services. These latter services allow listeners to access and listen to a song through an internet-connected device such as a tablet, computer, or smartphone. iHeartMedia streamed the Sheridans’ recordings to listeners over its internet radio platform, iHeartRadio. It was undisputed that iHeartMedia had no license, authority, or consent from the Sheridans to stream the recordings, and iHeartMedia did not compensate the Sheridans for the use of their recordings. The Sheridans claimed that iHeartMedia needed their consent to transfer their master sound recordings to iHeartRadio listeners, and that iHeartMedia engaged in racketeering activity by making unauthorized transfers. iHeartMedia moved to dismiss the Sheridans’ complaint under the radio broadcast exemption in OCGA 16-8-60 (c) (1), which stated that the statute did not apply to “any person who transfers or causes to be transferred any such sounds or visual images intended for or in connection with radio or television broadcast transmission or related uses.” After review, the Supreme Court found that the type of internet radio services being offered by iHeartMedia, Inc. in this case fell under the exemption set forth in OCGA 16-8-60 (c) (l). View “iHeartMedia, Inc. v. Sheridan” on Justia Law

Published on:

The court certified the following questions to the California Supreme Court: 1) Under section 980(a)(2) of the California Civil Code, do copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings that were sold to the public before 1982 possess an exclusive right of public performance? 2) If not, does California’s common law of property or
tort otherwise grant copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings an exclusive right of public performance? View “Flo & Eddie v. Pandora Media” on Justia Law

Published on:

The court certified the following questions to the California Supreme Court: 1) Under section 980(a)(2) of the California Civil Code, do copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings that were sold to the public before 1982 possess an exclusive right of public performance? 2) If not, does California’s common law of property or
tort otherwise grant copyright owners of pre-1972 sound recordings an exclusive right of public performance? View “Flo & Eddie v. Pandora Media” on Justia Law