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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

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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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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

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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

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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

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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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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, alleging, inter alia, that defendants infringed “Bikram’s Copyrighted Works through substantial use of Bikram’s Copyrighted Works in and as part of Defendants’ offering of yoga classes.” The district court granted defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment as to the claim of copyright infringement of the “Sequence.” The parties settled all remaining claims. At issue on appeal was whether a sequence of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises developed by Bikram Choudhury and described in his 1979 book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, is entitled to copyright protection. The court concluded that the Sequence is an idea, process, or system designed to improve health. Copyright protects only the expression of this idea – the words and pictures used to describe the Sequence – and not the idea of the Sequence itself. Because the Sequence is an unprotectible idea, it is also ineligible for copyright protection as a “compilation” or “choreographic work.” Therefore, the court concluded that the district court properly granted partial summary judgment in favor of defendants because the Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright. The court affirmed the judgment. View “Bikram’s Yoga College v. Evolation Yoga” on Justia Law

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DC filed suit against defendant, producer of replicas of the Batmobile, alleging, among other things, causes of action for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition arising from defendant’s manufacture and sale of the Batmobile replicas. The court concluded that the Batmobile, as it appears in the comic books, television series, and motion picture, is entitled to copyright protection. The court also concluded that the Batmobile character is the property of DC and that defendant infringed upon DC’s property rights when he produced unauthorized derivative works of the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1966 television show and the 1989 motion picture. Finally, the district court did not err when it ruled as a matter of law that defendant could not assert a laches defense to DC’s trademark infringement claim because defendant willfully infringed on DC’s trademarks. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for DC on the copyright and trademark infringement claims. View “DC Comics v. Towle” on Justia Law

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After receiving takedown notification, YouTube removed plaintiff’s video and sent her an email notifying her of the removal. Plaintiff subsequently filed suit against Universal under part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(f), alleging that Universal misrepresented in the takedown notification that her video constituted an infringing use of a portion of a composition by the Artist known as Prince, which Universal insists was unauthorized by the law. The court held that the DMCA requires copyright holders to consider fair use before sending a takedown notification, and that failure to do so raises a triable issue as to whether the copyright holder formed a subjective good faith belief that the use was not authorized by law. The court held, contrary to the district court’s holding, that plaintiff may proceed under an actual knowledge theory in order to determine whether Universal knowingly misrepresented that it had formed a good faith belief that the video did not constitute fair use. The court held that the willful blindness doctrine may be used to determine whether a copyright holder “knowingly materially misrepresented[ed]” that it held a “good faith belief” the offending activity was not a fair use. In this case, plaintiff failed to provide evidence from which a juror could infer that Universal was aware of a high probability the video constituted fair use. Therefore, plaintiff may not proceed to trial on a willful blindness theory. The court also held that a plaintiff may seek recovery of nominal damages for an injury incurred as a result of a section 512(f) misrepresentation. In this case, plaintiff may seek recovery of nominal damages due to an unquantifiable harm suffered as a result of Universal’s actions. View “Lenz. Universal Music Corp.” on Justia Law

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The Foundation, the sole beneficiary of Ray Charles’ estate, filed suit to challenge his heirs’ purported termination of copyright grants that Charles conferred while he was alive. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that the suit meets the threshold requirements of constitutional standing and ripeness, the argument that the Foundation may be a beneficial owner lends no support to its claim to standing; the Foundation is a real party in interest and has third-party standing; under the zone-of-interests test, the Foundation properly asserts its own claims where termination, if effective, would directly extinguish the Foundation’s right to receive prospective royalties from the current grant; and the Foundation is indeed a party whose injuries may have been proximately caused by violations of the statute. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s judgment. View “The Ray Charles Found. v. Robinson” on Justia Law