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

Articles Posted in Copyright

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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

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Minden, a stock photography company, filed an infringement suit under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 501(b), against Wiley, a textbook publisher, alleging that Wiley had substantially exceeded the scope of the licenses granted by Minden. Minden claimed that Wiley published far more copies of books containing the photographs at issue than permitted under the licenses. At issue was whether Minden, as a licensing agent, has statutory standing under the Copyright Act to bring an infringement suit based on alleged violations of the terms of its licenses to Wiley. The court held that Minden may bring an infringement action to remedy the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, and display of the photographs by those to whom it has granted licenses because agency agreements convey the rights to reproduce, distribute, and display the photographs to Minden via an “exclusive license” to grant licenses to third parties. Accordingly, the court held that Minden has standing to sue under the Act and reversed the judgment of the district court. View "Minden Pictures v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law
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After plaintiff, an artist, prevailed on a contributory copyright infringement claim against ELW, a publisher of her artwork, the district court awarded her attorney fees under a fee-shifting provision contained in the parties' publishing contract. Both parties appealed. Primarily at issue was whether the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., precluded enforcement of a contractual attorney fees provision in copyright-based litigation. The court concluded that the Copyright Act does not bar an award of attorney fees under the circumstances but held that the district court abused its discretion by categorically excluding the majority of plaintiff’s requested fees without adequate explanation. The court affirmed the district court’s pretrial order setting the issues for trial and affirm its orders denying plaintiff’s motions for sanctions and for leave to amend. The court concluded that, although the district court correctly determined that plaintiff was entitled to attorney fees, the district court abused its discretion by categorically excluding the majority of plaintiff’s requested fees and failing to provide an adequate explanation for its calculations. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Ryan v. Editions Ltd. West" on Justia Law
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Rex Woodard entered into a written agreement to ghostwrite the autobiography (the "Work") of Thomas DeVito, one of the original members of the "Four Seasons" band later known as "Jersey Boys." After Woodward passed away, DeVito registered the Work with the U.S. Copyright Office solely under his own name in 1991. DeVito and another former "Four Seasons" band member, Nicholas Macioci, executed an agreement with two of their former bandmates, Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, which granted Valli and Gaudio the exclusive rights to use aspects of their lives to develop a musical stage performance (the "Play") about the "Four Seasons." Plaintiff, Woodward's widow, subsequently filed suit alleging that the Play constitutes, at least in part, a "derivative work" of the DeVito autobiography, the right to create which resides exclusively in the copyright-holders of the underlying work, and their lawful successors, assignees, and licensees. The court concluded that the 1999 Agreement constitutes a transfer of ownership of DeVito's derivative-work right in the Work to Valli and Gaudio; Sybersound Records, Inc. v. UAV Corp. presents no obstacle to DeVito's exclusive transfer of his derivative-work right to Valli and Gaudio under the 1999 Agreement; copyright co-owners must account to one another for any profits earned by exploiting that copyright; and, therefore, the district court erred in rejecting plaintiff's claims for accounting and declaratory relief. Further, defendants have necessarily failed to establish the existence of a license as an affirmative defense to plaintiff's infringement action. The court also concluded that summary judgment for defendants on plaintiff's claims of infringement under foreign law grounds must be reversed. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, vacated its assessment of costs against plaintiff, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Corbello v. Valli" on Justia Law

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Omega, global purveyor of luxury watches, filed suit against Costco for copyright infringement, alleging that Costco's importation of Omega's Seamaster watches, which sometimes bears an engraving of the Omega Globe Design, was without the copyright holder's permission in violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 602. The district court granted summary judgment to Costco on remand, finding that Omega misused its copyright of the Omega Globe to expand its limited monopoly impermissibly and granting Costco attorney's fees. Pursuant to Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., the court affirmed and concluded that Omega's right to control importation and distribution of its copyrighted Omega Globe expired after that authorized first sale, and Costco's subsequent sale of the watches did not constitute copyright infringement. Therefore, application of the first sale doctrine disposes of Omega's claim, resolves this case in Costco's favor, and conclusively reaffirms that copyright holders cannot use their rights to fix resale prices in the downstream market. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees to Costco where it should have been clear to Omega that copyright law neither condoned nor protected its actions, and the imposition of fees would further the purpose of the Copyright Act. View "Omega S.A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law
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Oracle filed suit against SAP alleging that TomorrowNow, an enterprise software company recently acquired by SAP, was engaging in systematic and pervasive illegal downloading of Oracle's software. SAP stipulated to liability and the parties went to trial solely on damages. On appeal, Oracle challenged several of the district court's rulings. The court affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law to SAP where the hypothetical-license damage award was based on undue speculation and Oracle failed to provide sufficient objective evidence of the market value of the hypothetical license underpinning the jury's damages award; for the same reasons, the court affirmed the district court's grant of SAP's motion for a new trial based on remittitur; and the court rejected Oracle's claim that the district court erred in limiting the second trial to damages based on a lost-profits and infringer's-profits theory, barring Oracle's pursuit of hypothetical-license damages. The court concluded that the district court, in selecting a $272 million remittitur amount, abused its discretion in selecting the $36-million lost-profits figure rather than the $120.7-million one. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded to the district court for it to offer Oracle the choice between a $356.7-million remittitur and proceeding to a second trial. The court affirmed on the four rulings related to the second trial and did not reach the questions presented by the other three rulings.View "Oracle Corp. v. SAP AG" on Justia Law

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Clinton is a musician, bandleader, and touring performance artist. H&L, a law firm, represented Clinton in in 2005-2008, billed Clinton $3,341,650, received $1,000,578 in payment, and wrote off $600,000 of the remaining balance. This left $1,779,756.29 due. H&L initiated arbitration. Clinton did not participate; the panel ruled in favor of H&L. The district court confirmed the award of $1,675,639.82, plus interest plus $60,786.50 in attorney fees. H&L pursued collection, including garnishments, levies, and liens across the country. Clinton’s attorney declared that they created a financial “stranglehold” so that Clinton “[c]an’t pay his taxes … it is going to affect... his ability to make a living at 72 years old.” A year later, Clinton sued H&L for legal malpractice. H&L asserted counterclaims and sought an order authorizing the sale of master sound recording copyrights to satisfy its judgments. The district court appointed a receiver and authorized the receiver to use the copyrights to satisfy the judgments. Amending its earlier order, the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Under Washington law Clinton’s copyrights in the masters were subject to execution to satisfy judgments against him. Section 201(e) of the federal Copyright Act does not protect Clinton from the involuntary transfer of his copyrighted works. Clinton could raise claims of fraud on the court and judicial estoppel for the first time on appeal, but the claims were meritless. View "Hendricks & Lewis PLLC v. Clinton" on Justia Law

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Musical artist George Clinton appealed the district court's order appointing a receiver and authorizing the sale of copyrights in an action against his former law firm. The firm obtained judgments against Clinton for past-due attorneys' fees and sought an order authorizing the sale of master recordings that Clinton recorded with the group Funkadelic (the "Masters") to satisfy the judgments. The court concluded that Clinton's copyrights in the Masters were subject to execution to satisfy judgments entered against him; Section 201(e) of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 201(e), does not protect Clinton from the involuntary transfer of his copyrighted works; the district court did not abuse its discretion by appointing a receiver to manage or sell ownership of these copyrights; Clinton may raise claims of fraud on the court and judicial estoppel for the first time on appeal, but both claims are meritless; and Clinton failed to raise his preemption, Erie Doctrine, and Due Process Arguments in the district court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Hendricks & Lewis PLLC v. Clinton" on Justia Law