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
Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC
Varsity manufactures cheerleading and athletic apparel. Its designers sketch concepts: “original combinations, positionings, and arrangements of elements which include V’s (chevrons), lines, curves, stripes, angles, diagonals, inverted V’s, coloring, and shapes,” but do not consider functionality or the ease of actually producing a uniform. Varsity decides whether to implement the completed design concept. Varsity advertises in catalogs and online, inviting customers to choose a design concept before selecting the shape, colors, and braiding for the uniform. Varsity received copyright registration for “two-dimensional artwork” for some designs. Star sells sports and cheerleading uniforms and advertised cheerleading uniforms that looked similar to five of Varsity’s registered designs. Varsity sued, alleging violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101. The court entered summary judgment in Star’s favor, concluding that Varsity’s designs were not copyrightable because their graphic elements are not physically or conceptually separable from the utilitarian function of a uniform because the “colors, stripes, chevrons, and similar designs” make the garment “recognizable as a cheerleading uniform.” The court did not address whether Varsity’s designs were unprotectable as unoriginal. The Sixth circuit reversed, finding that the graphic features of Varsity’s designs are more like fabric design than dress design, and are protectable subject matter under the Copyright Act View “Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC” on Justia Law
Automated Solutions Corp. v. Paragon Data Sys., Inc.
In 2001, ASC and Paragon entered into a contract to develop and support computer software for the Chicago Tribune. This software, called the “Single Copy Distribution System” (SCDS) would allow the Tribune to manage and track newspaper deliveries and subscriptions. Tensions emerged and Paragon terminated the contract in 2003. ASC successfully sued Paragon in Ohio state court, obtaining a declaration that ASC was the sole owner of the SCDS. In federal court, ASC alleged copyright infringement, trademark infringement, breach of contract, conversion, tortious interference with a business relationship, unjust enrichment, and unfair competition based on Paragon’s alleged copying of the SCDS software to use in its DRACI software, developed in 2004 for another newspaper. After eight years of litigation, the district court granted summary judgment to Paragon on all claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that ASC had never submitted any evidence identifying the unique protectable elements of SCDS, and that there was insufficient evidence to generate even an implication that DRACI is substantially similar to SCDS. View “Automated Solutions Corp. v. Paragon Data Sys., Inc.” on Justia Law
Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Meadowlake Ltd.
Rafters Bar and Grill, a golf-course restaurant in Canton, Ohio, offers music and dancing, sometimes turning on a recording, sometimes bringing in live performers, but it hosts performances of the music without getting the copyright owners’ permission. BMI, an organization of songwriters and composers that licenses music and collects royalties on behalf of its members, sent Rafters more than a score of letters, warning the restaurant not to infringe its copyrights and offering to license its music. It got no response. BMI sued for copyright infringement. Roy, the owner of Rafters, argued that he did not perform any of the copyrighted music. The bands that played at the restaurant and the people who turned on the recordings did that. The district court granted BMI summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that a defendant becomes vicariously liable for a direct infringement of a copyright “by profiting from [the] infringement while declining to exercise a right to stop or limit it.” A defendant’s ignorance about the infringement or the performances does not negate vicarious liability. View “Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Meadowlake Ltd.” on Justia Law
Brumley v. Albert Brumley & Sons, Inc.
In 1975, Brumley assigned to his sons, Robert and William, his interests in a copyright to the hit gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away.” In 2006, Brumley’s four other children sought to terminate the assignment. Robert refused to recognize the termination as valid, arguing that Brumley was not the statutory author of the song and that a 1979 assignment of interests by Brumley’s widow prevented the heirs from later exercising termination rights. The district court ruled in favor of the heirs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed admission of a transcript and recording of a 1977 conversation between Brumley and one of the plaintiffs, but reversed and remanded because of the court’s exclusion of two articles discussing Brumley’s employment status at the time that he composed the song. View “Brumley v. Albert Brumley & Sons, Inc.” on Justia Law
Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Smith
In 1974, songwriter, recording artist, producer, and performer Tilmon, composed the song “You’re Getting a Little Too Smart.” In 1976, Tilmon assigned all of his rights to the song to Bridgeport Music. In 1997, rapper Rashaam A. Smith a/k/a Esham A. Smith released the song “You & Me,” which, according to Bridgeport, unlawfully contained samples of the composition “Smart.” In 2003, plaintiffs, including Bridgeport, sued for copyright infringement. In 2004, plaintiffs obtained default judgments. In 2005, plaintiffs recorded the judgments with the U.S. Copyright Office. In 2011, Tilmon’s widow and a nonparty to the lawsuit, moved, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), to set aside the default judgments because she was the legal owner of the copyright by operation of law at the time the lawsuit was filed. The district court denied the motion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that the motion was untimely because the widow was on constructive notice of the judgment and had not established an inference of fraud on the court.
View “Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Smith” on Justia Law
National Rifle Ass’n of America v. Handgun Control Fed’n
The NRA sent short letters to its members urging opposition to two gun control bills pending before the Ohio legislature. Attached to each newsletter was a three-page listing of Ohio state legislators. HCF sent out a newsletter supporting the same House bill the NRA opposed. Pages eight and nine of the newsletter contain a two-page list of Ohio representatives, which HCF photocopied from one of the NRA mailings. The NRA filed a complaint alleging copyright infringement of the compilation of information concerning the members of the Ohio legislature. The District Court ruled that the NRA could not copyright the three-page list of Ohio legislators at issue. The Circuit Court affirmed, holding that HCF had made fair use of the list under the copyright statutes and therefore could not be held liable.
Remark, LLC v. Adell Broad. Corp.
Remark produced a distinctive series of television commercials for radio stations known as the “remarkable mouth” or “hot lips” commercials. The U.S. Copyright Office issued a copyright for a version of this commercial in 1980. The original holder of the copyright assigned it to Remark, which registered it with the Copyright Office in 2002. WADL, a Detroit television station, broadcast two commercials that resemble the copyright. After the commercials aired, Remark sent a cease-and-desist letter to the producer, Adell. After some negotiation, the parties agreed that $50,000 would settle Remark’s claims. Remark drafted an agreement, and Adell produced a revised version. Remark’s counsel e-mailed Adell’s counsel saying that Remark agreed to the changes. Adell forwarded a final version. Remark signed and returned the originals, but Adell never signed the agreement. It instead retained new counsel and for the first time balked at the $50,000 figure, offering to settle for a more “reasonable” amount. Remark filed suit. The district court granted Remark summary judgment but denied its request for attorney’s fees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View “Remark, LLC v. Adell Broad. Corp.” on Justia Law
Static Control Components, Inc v. Lexmark Int’l, Inc.
Lexmark manufactures printers and toner cartridges. Remanufacturers acquire used Lexmark cartridges, refill them, and sell them at a lower cost. Lexmark developed microchips for the cartridges and the printers so that Lexmark printers will reject cartridges not containing a matching microchip and patented certain aspects of the cartridges. SC began replicating the microchips and selling them to remanufacturers along with other parts for repair and resale of Lexmark toner cartridges. Lexmark sued SC for copyright violations related to its source code in making the duplicate microchips and obtained a preliminary injunction. SC counterclaimed under federal and state antitrust and false-advertising laws. While that suit was pending, SC redesigned its microchips and sued Lexmark for declaratory judgment to establish that the redesigned microchips did not infringe any copyright. Lexmark counterclaimed again for copyright violations and added patent counterclaims. The suits were consolidated. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction and rejected Lexmark’s copyright theories. On remand, the court dismissed all SC counterclaims. A jury held that SC did not induce patent infringement and advised that Lexmark misused its patents. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of federal antitrust claims, but reversed dismissal of SC’s claims under the Lanham Act and certain state law claims. View “Static Control Components, Inc v. Lexmark Int’l, Inc.” on Justia Law
Balsley v. LFP, Inc.
The “Hot News Babes” feature of Hustler magazine invites readers to nominate young, attractive female news reporters for a monthly prize. In 2003, Bosley, a 37-year-old news anchor, entered a “wet t-shirt” contest at a Florida bar and ultimately danced nude. Durocher, took pictures without Bosley’s knowledge and published them on lenshead.com. Durocher included a visual copyright notice and a general warning. A few months later, Bosley lost her job when the story was reported. To end the photographs’ dissemination, Bosley bought and registered the copyright. In 2004, Bosley was employed as a television reporter in another city. In 2005, a reader advised Hustler of the availability of the pictures online and of Bosley being the “HOTTEST.” Hustler published the Durocher nude photograph in 2006 with text describing Bosley. Bosley’s suit alleged direct copyright infringement, 17 U.S.C. 101; contributory infringement, 17 U.S.C. 101; vicarious infringement, 17 U.S.C. 106(1), (3), (5); violation of Ohio common law right of privacy; violation of the Ohio statutory right of publicity; and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Only the direct infringement claim survived. The jury rejected a fair use defense, but found the violation not willful, and awarded $135,000 plus fees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View “Balsley v. LFP, Inc.” on Justia Law