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

Articles Posted in Copyright

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Mavrix filed suit against LiveJournal for posting 20 of its copyrighted photographs online. The district court granted summary judgment for LiveJournal, holding that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(c), safe harbor protected LiveJournal from liability because Mavrix's photographs were posted at the direction of the user. In this case, when users submitted Mavrix's photographs to LiveJournal, LiveJournal posted the photographs after a team of volunteer moderators led by a LiveJournal employee reviewed and approved them. The court disagreed with the district court and concluded that the common law of agency does apply to this analysis and that there were genuine factual disputes regarding whether the moderators were LiveJournal's agents. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for trial. The court addressed the remaining issues that the district court addressed because these issues may be contested on remand. On remand, the district court must determine whether LiveJournal met the section 512(c) safe harbor threshold requirement by showing that the photographs were posted at the direction of the user, then LiveJournal must show that it lacked actual or red flag knowledge of the infringements and that it did not financially benefit from infringements that it had the right and ability to control. View "Mavrix Photographs, LLC v. LiveJournal, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, former student athletes, filed suit against T3Media, asserting claims for statutory and common law publicity-rights, as well as an unfair competition claim under California law. Plaintiffs alleged that T3Media exploited their likenesses commercially by selling non-exclusive licenses permitting consumers to download photographs from the NCAA's Photo Library for non-commercial art use. The district court held that the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., preempted plaintiffs' claims and granted T3Media's special motion to strike pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.16. In this case, plaintiffs concede that their suit arises from acts in furtherance of T3Media's right to free speech. Therefore, plaintiffs must demonstrate a reasonable probability of prevailing on their challenged claims. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to do so because the federal Copyright Act preempts plaintiffs' claims. The court explained that the subject matter of the state law claims falls within the subject matter of copyright, and the rights plaintiffs assert were equivalent to rights within the general scope of copyright. Because the district court did not err in granting T3Media's special motion to strike, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Maloney v. T3Media, Inc." on Justia Law

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Unicolors filed suit against Urban, alleging copyright infringement of the Subject Design. The district court concluded that defendants were liable for copyright infringement. A jury found that Urban willfully infringed Unicolor's copyright in the Subject Design and awarded damages, as well as fees and costs. The court concluded that a district court may grant summary judgment for plaintiffs on the issue of copying when the works are so overwhelmingly similar that the possibility of independent creation is precluded. The court determined that the works at issue in this case met this standard. The court explained that, because of the decisive objective overlap between the works, no reasonable juror could conclude under the intrinsic test that the works are not substantially similar in total concept and feel. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Unicolor. The court also concluded that it is permissible to infer copying in this case, even absent evidence of access; the district court properly held that Unicolors had a valid registration in the Subject Design; and the jury's verdict finding willful infringement is therefore supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Unicolors, Inc. v. Urban Outfitters, Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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