Archives

Published on:

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

Published on:

EA, creator of The Sims, contracted with a production company called Lithomania to produce a USB flash drive shaped like a “PlumbBob,” a gem-shaped icon from the computer game, to promote a “Collector’s Edition” of The Sims. Lithomania in turn contracted with DT to produce a prototype of the PlumbBob-shaped flash drive. After DT settled breach of contract claims with Lithomania, DT sued EA under the federal Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., and the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), Cal. Civ. Code 3426–3246.11. The district court granted summary judgment to EA. The court held that the district court erred by concluding as a matter of law that the flash drive was not copyrightable, and that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether DT’s cut-away design for removing the USB flash drive from the PlumbBob object is sufficiently non-functional and non-trivial to warrant copyright protection. In this case, a reasonable jury could decide these questions in either party’s favor. Therefore, the court reversed as to this claim. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to EA as to the CUTSA claim and held that DT’s design for the flash drive’s removal from the PlumbBob object does not derive independent economic value from not being generally known to the public. The court rejected EA’s cross appeal and held that the district court did not clearly err or otherwise abuse its discretion in denying attorneys’ fees for this claim. View “Direct Tech. v. Electronic Arts” on Justia Law

Published on:

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

Published on:

Flo & Eddie, a California corporation, filed suit against Sirius, a satellite and internet radio provider, claiming that Sirius violated Flo & Eddie’s rights as owner of sound recordings of musical performances that were fixed before February 15, 1972. Because the issues in this case have not been addressed by the Supreme Court of Florida, the court certified the following questions to that state court: 1. Whether Florida recognizes common law copyright in sound recordings and, if so, whether that copyright includes the exclusive right of reproduction and/or the exclusive right of public performance? 2. To the extent that Florida recognizes common law copyright in sound recordings, whether the sale and distribution of phonorecords to the public or the public performance thereof constitutes a “publication” for the purpose of divesting the common law copyright protections in sound recordings embedded in the phonorecord and, if so whether the divestment terminates either or both of the exclusive right of public performance and the exclusive right of reproduction? 3. To the extent that Florida recognizes a common law copyright including a right of exclusive reproduction in sound recordings, whether Sirius’s back-up or buffer copies infringe Flo & Eddie’s common law copyright exclusive right of reproduction? 4. To the extent that Florida does not recognize a common law copyright in sound recordings, or to the extent that such a copyright was terminated by publication, whether Flo & Eddie nevertheless has a cause of action for common law unfair competition/misappropriation, common law conversion, or statutory civil theft under FLA. STAT. 772.11 and FLA. STAT. 812.014? View “Flo & Eddie v. Sirius SM Radio” on Justia Law

Published on:

Flo & Eddie, a California corporation, filed suit against Sirius, a satellite and internet radio provider, claiming that Sirius violated Flo & Eddie’s rights as owner of sound recordings of musical performances that were fixed before February 15, 1972. Because the issues in this case have not been addressed by the Supreme Court of Florida, the court certified the following questions to that state court: 1. Whether Florida recognizes common law copyright in sound recordings and, if so, whether that copyright includes the exclusive right of reproduction and/or the exclusive right of public performance? 2. To the extent that Florida recognizes common law copyright in sound recordings, whether the sale and distribution of phonorecords to the public or the public performance thereof constitutes a “publication” for the purpose of divesting the common law copyright protections in sound recordings embedded in the phonorecord and, if so whether the divestment terminates either or both of the exclusive right of public performance and the exclusive right of reproduction? 3. To the extent that Florida recognizes a common law copyright including a right of exclusive reproduction in sound recordings, whether Sirius’s back-up or buffer copies infringe Flo & Eddie’s common law copyright exclusive right of reproduction? 4. To the extent that Florida does not recognize a common law copyright in sound recordings, or to the extent that such a copyright was terminated by publication, whether Flo & Eddie nevertheless has a cause of action for common law unfair competition/misappropriation, common law conversion, or statutory civil theft under FLA. STAT. 772.11 and FLA. STAT. 812.014? View “Flo & Eddie v. Sirius SM Radio” on Justia Law

Published on:

VMG filed a copyright infringement suit against Madonna and others, alleging that the producer of the song “Vogue,” copied a 0.23-second segment of horns from an earlier song, known as “Love Break,” and used a modified version of that snippet when recording “Vogue.” The district court granted summary judgment to defendants and awarded them attorney’s fees under 17 U.S.C. 505. VMG appealed. The court agreed with the district court’s application of the longstanding legal rule that de minimus copying does not constitute infringement and that a general audience would not recognize the brief snippet in “Vogue” as originating from “Love Break.” The court rejected VMG’s argument that Congress eliminated the de minimis exception to claims alleging infringement of a sound recording. The court recognized that the Sixth Circuit held to the contrary in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, but found Bridgeport’s reasoning unpersuasive. The court held that the de minimus exception applies to infringement actions concerning copyrighted sound recordings, as it applies to all other copyright infringement actions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants. In regard to the attorney’s fees, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion. A claim premised on a legal theory adopted by the only circuit court to have addressed the issue is, as a matter of law, objectively reasonable. The district court’s conclusion to the contrary constitutes legal error. View “VMG Salsoul, LLC v. Ciccone” on Justia Law

Published on:

VMG filed a copyright infringement suit against Madonna and others, alleging that the producer of the song “Vogue,” copied a 0.23-second segment of horns from an earlier song, known as “Love Break,” and used a modified version of that snippet when recording “Vogue.” The district court granted summary judgment to defendants and awarded them attorney’s fees under 17 U.S.C. 505. VMG appealed. The court agreed with the district court’s application of the longstanding legal rule that de minimus copying does not constitute infringement and that a general audience would not recognize the brief snippet in “Vogue” as originating from “Love Break.” The court rejected VMG’s argument that Congress eliminated the de minimis exception to claims alleging infringement of a sound recording. The court recognized that the Sixth Circuit held to the contrary in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, but found Bridgeport’s reasoning unpersuasive. The court held that the de minimus exception applies to infringement actions concerning copyrighted sound recordings, as it applies to all other copyright infringement actions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants. In regard to the attorney’s fees, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion. A claim premised on a legal theory adopted by the only circuit court to have addressed the issue is, as a matter of law, objectively reasonable. The district court’s conclusion to the contrary constitutes legal error. View “VMG Salsoul, LLC v. Ciccone” on Justia Law

Published on:

VMG filed a copyright infringement suit against Madonna and others, alleging that the producer of the song “Vogue,” copied a 0.23-second segment of horns from an earlier song, known as “Love Break,” and used a modified version of that snippet when recording “Vogue.” The district court granted summary judgment to defendants and awarded them attorney’s fees under 17 U.S.C. 505. VMG appealed. The court agreed with the district court’s application of the longstanding legal rule that de minimus copying does not constitute infringement and that a general audience would not recognize the brief snippet in “Vogue” as originating from “Love Break.” The court rejected VMG’s argument that Congress eliminated the de minimis exception to claims alleging infringement of a sound recording. The court recognized that the Sixth Circuit held to the contrary in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, but found Bridgeport’s reasoning unpersuasive. The court held that the de minimus exception applies to infringement actions concerning copyrighted sound recordings, as it applies to all other copyright infringement actions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants. In regard to the attorney’s fees, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion. A claim premised on a legal theory adopted by the only circuit court to have addressed the issue is, as a matter of law, objectively reasonable. The district court’s conclusion to the contrary constitutes legal error. View “VMG Salsoul, LLC v. Ciccone” on Justia Law

Published on:

Albert Brumley, author of the gospel song “I’ll Fly Away,” assigned the song’s 1932 copyright to a company. The company subsequently became the property of his son, Robert. Albert died in 1977. Albert’s widow also executed an assignment to Robert. During the term of a copyright, an author may use, assign, sell, or license the copyright, 17 U.S.C. 201(d), but songwriters and their descendants may terminate the songwriter’s assignment of a copyright to another party, Sections 203, 304(c). In 2008, four of Brumley’s six children filed notice to terminate the assignment to their brother, Robert. The copyright was then generating about $300,000 per year. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed their right to terminate the assignment, rejecting arguments that the song was a “work made for hire,” which is not eligible for termination, 17 U.S.C. 304(c); and that Albert’s widow relinquished any termination rights. View “Brumley v. Brumley & Sons, Inc.” on Justia Law

Published on:

Plaintiff-Appellant BWP Media USA, Inc. d/b/a Pacific Coast News and National Photo Group, LLC (“BWP”) appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Clarity Digital Group, LLC n/k/a AXS Digital Media Group, LLC (“AXS”). BWP owned the rights to photographs of various celebrities. In February 2014, BWP filed a complaint alleging that AXS infringed its copyrights by posting 75 of its photographs without permission on AXS’s website, “Examiner.com.” Rather than hiring a centralized writing staff, the content generated on Examiner.com was created by independent contractors, called “Examiners,” all over the world. Because it was a group of Examiners that posted the infringing content on Examiner.com, AXS asserted it was protected under the DMCA’s safe harbor provision. .” AXS asserted it was protected from liability by the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) and moved for summary judgment. The district court agreed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit also agreed and affirmed the district court. View “BWP Media USA v. Clarity Digital Group” on Justia Law