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

Articles Posted in Entertainment & Sports 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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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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Plaintiff Leah Manzari, famous under her professional name, Danni Ashe, for her groundbreaking work in monetizing online pornography, filed a defamation suit claiming that the Daily Mail Online, an online news outlet, used a photograph of her to convey the defamatory impression that she had tested positive for HIV. The Daily Mail filed an interlocutory appeal under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.15. The court agreed with the district court that, at this stage in the litigation, Manzari has presented sufficient evidence to move forward with her claim that the Daily Mail Online employees acted with actual malice when they published the article implying that Manzari was an HIV-positive sex worker. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the Daily Mail's motion to strike the complaint. View "Manzari v. Associated Newspapers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs and volunteers built the La Contessa, a replica of a 16th-century Spanish galleon, from a used school bus for use at the Burning Man Festival. Defendant intentionally burned the wooden structure of the La Contessa so that a scrap metal dealer could remove the underlying school bus from his property. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that defendant violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), 17 U.S.C. 106(A), and committed common law conversion when he destroyed the La Contessa. The trial court granted summary judgment on their VARA claim and awarded attorneys' fees. The court held that an object constitutes a piece of “applied art”- as opposed to a “work of visual art”- where the object initially served a utilitarian function and the object continues to serve such a function after the artist made embellishments or alterations to it. Conversely, “applied art” would not include a piece of art whose function is purely aesthetic or a utilitarian object which is so transformed through the addition of artistic elements that its utilitarian functions cease. In this case, the court concluded that the La Contessa plainly was "applied art," and thus was not a work of visual art under the VARA and not eligible for its protection. Therefore, the trial court properly granted summary judgment to defendant on the VARA claim. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the testimony of two of plaintiffs' expert witnesses, nor did the trial court err in its jury instructions on abandoned property and abandonment. Furthermore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to include jury instructions on lost profits and punitive damages resulting from the destruction of the La Contessa; in admitting evidence of drug paraphenalia surrounding the La Contessa as it sat on defendant’s property; and in denying plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on their conversion claim. Finally, the trial court did not err in awarding attorneys' fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cheffins v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jeffrey Sarver filed suit against defendants, contending that Will James, the main character in the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker," is based on his life and experiences and that he did not consent to such use and that several scenes in the film falsely portray him in a way that has harmed his reputation. The district court dismissed all of Sarver’s claims. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that it had little basis to conclude that New Jersey is Sarver's legal domicile at the time the film was released. Even assuming arguendo that New Jersey was Sarver’s domicile, the court concluded that California contacts predominate, and the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts section 145 factors weigh in favor of the application of California's anti-SLAPP law, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.16. Under section 6 Second Restatement principles, California had the most significant relationship to this litigation, which was sufficient to overcome any presumption of Sarver's domicile. The court also concluded that defendants' anti-SLAPP motions were timely filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. On the merits, the court concluded that the film and the narrative of its central character Will James speak directly to issues of a public nature, and Sarver has failed to state and substantiate a legally sufficient claim. The film is speech that is fully protected by the First Amendment, which safeguards the storytellers and artists who take the raw materials of life - including the stories of real individuals, ordinary or extraordinary - and transform them into art. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting defendants’ anti-SLAPP motions. Finally, the court concluded that Sarver’s false light invasion of privacy, defamation, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and constructive fraud/negligent misrepresentation claims were properly dismissed. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Sarver v. Chartier" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff O'Bannon filed suit against the NCAA and CLC, alleging that the NCAA’s amateurism rules, insofar as they prevented student-athletes from being compensated for the use of their names, images, and likenesses (NILs), were an illegal restraint of trade under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. Plaintiff Keller filed suit against the NCAA, CLC, and EA, alleging that EA had impermissibly used student-athletes’ NILs in its video games and that the NCAA and CLC had wrongfully turned a blind eye to EA’s misappropriation of these NILs. Both cases were consolidated. The district court entered judgment for plaintiffs, concluding that the NCAA’s rules prohibiting student-athletes from receiving compensation for their NILs violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The court concluded that it was not precluded from reaching the merits of the appeal and found none of plaintiffs' claims persuasive. The court reaffirmed that NCAA regulations are subject to antitrust scrutiny and must be analyzed under the Rule of Reason; when those regulations truly serve procompetitive purposes, courts should not hesitate to uphold them; but the NCAA is not above the antitrust laws, and courts cannot and must not shy away from requiring the NCAA to play by the Sherman Act’s rules. In this case, the NCAA’s rules have been more restrictive than necessary to maintain its tradition of amateurism in support of the college sports market. The court concluded that the Rule of Reason requires that the NCAA permit its schools to provide up to the cost of attendance to their student athletes. The court concluded that it does not require more. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court’s judgment and permanent injunction insofar as they require the NCAA to allow its member schools to pay student-athletes up to $5,000 per year in deferred compensation. The court affirmed otherwise. View "O'Bannon v. NCAA" 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