Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Copyright

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Design Data filed suit alleging that UE infringed the copyright on Design Data's computer aided design (CAD) program by downloading an unauthorized copy of the program and importing and distributing within the United States program output generated by a Chinese contractor using an unauthorized copy of the program. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the copyright protection afforded Design Data's computer program does not, on these facts, extend to the program's output; affirmed the district court's decision to refuse Design Data a further opportunity to amend its complaint; reversed the district court as to its determination on summary judgment that UE's download of Design Data's SDS/2 program was a de minimis copyright violation; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Design Data Corp. v. Unigate Enterprise" on Justia Law

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This case arises from a copyright dispute revolving around the Usenet. Giganews owns and operates several Usenet servers and provides its subscribers with fee-based access to content stored on its own servers as well as content stored on the servers of other Usenet providers. Livewire provides its subscribers with access to the Usenet content stored on Giganews’s servers. Perfect 10, owner of exclusive rights to tens of thousands of adult images, filed suit against Giganews and Livewire, alleging direct and indirect copyright infringement claims as well as trademark and state law claims. The copyright claims are at issue in this appeal. The court concluded that the district court did not err in requiring Perfect 10 to satisfy the volitional conduct requirement as an element of a prima facie case of direct infringement, and agreed with the district court that Perfect 10 failed to prove volitional conduct with respect to either Giganews or Livewire. The court concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing much of Perfect 10’s direct infringement claim at the pleadings stage, nor did it err in granting summary judgment in favor of Giganews and Livewire on the direct, vicarious, and contributory infringement claims; concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees to defendants and denying defendants' supplemental fee request; and held that the district court did not clearly err in refusing to add Perfect 10's sole shareholder and founder, Norman Zada, to the judgment against Perfect 10. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Perfect 10, Inc. v. Giganews, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the developer of the computer code for the original John Madden Football game for the Apple II computer, filed a diversity action against EA, seeking contract damages in the form of unpaid royalties for Sega Madden and Super Nintendo Madden. The court concluded that the district court properly granted judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) to EA under the "intrinsic test" because the jury had no evidence of Apple II Madden or Sega Madden as a whole to enable it to make a subjective comparison. In this case, plaintiff's claims rest on the contention that the source code of the Sega Madden games infringed on the source code for Apple II Madden. But, none of the source code was in evidence. The jury therefore could not compare the works to determine substantial similarity. The court rejected plaintiff's argument that EA’s post-verdict Rule 50(b) motion for JMOL regarding the intrinsic test should not have been considered. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing the Super Nintendo derivative work claims where the Apple II and Super Nintendo processors have different instruction sizes and data word sizes; the court agreed with the district court that the jury could not have determined plaintiff's damages from the alleged breach to a reasonable certainty; and even if the district court erred, there was no harm because plaintiff's failure to introduce any source code precluded a finding that Super Nintendo Madden was a Derivative Work. Finally, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the claim that EA used development aids to create non-derivative works because the claim is unsubstantiated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Antonick v. Electronic Arts, Inc." on Justia Law

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This dispute stems from plaintiff's attempt to protect his copyright in photographs of Pablo Picasso's artworks after an American art editor (Wofsy) reproduced the photographic images. Plaintiff received a judgment in French court of two million euros in "astreinte" against Wofsy. Plaintiff then sought to enforce the judgment in federal court in California under the California Uniform Foreign-Court Monetary Judgment Recognition Act, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 1713 et seq. The court held that Fed. R. Civ. P. 44.1 authorizes district courts to consider foreign legal materials outside the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss because Rule 44.1 treats foreign law determinations as questions of law, not fact. In this case, the district court did not err in considering expert declarations on the content of French law in ruling on Wofsy’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The court concluded that the district court erred in concluding that “the award of an astreinte in this case constitutes a penalty for purposes of the [Uniform Recognition Act].” The court held that the astreinte awarded by the French courts to plaintiff falls within the Uniform Recognition Act as a judgment that “[g]rants . . . a sum of money.” In this case, the astreinte was not a “fine or other penalty” for purposes of the Act, and accordingly the district court erred in concluding otherwise. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded. View "De Fontbrune v. Wofsy" on Justia Law

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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, the composer of a song called "Bright Red Chords," filed suit alleging that defendant, publicly known as Jessie J, and a team of high-profile songwriters led by Dr. Luke, stole a two-measure melody from Bright Red Chords. Plaintiff alleged that defendants used the melody in their hit song "Domino." The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that plaintiff’s arguments in this case tell a story that, if adequately substantiated, might have survived summary judgment. The problem is that it was not supported by potentially admissible evidence. The court concluded that, at bottom, the record consists primarily of plaintiff's speculations of access unsupported by personal knowledge. The other evidence did not fill the breach. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Loomis v. Cornish" 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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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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