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

Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

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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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MTM filed suit against online retailer Amazon under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., alleging that Amazon had infringed MTM's trademark. MTM argues that initial interest confusion might occur because Amazon lists the search term used – here the trademarked phrase “mtm special ops” – three times at the top of its search page. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon. The court considered five non-exhaustive Sleekcraft factors to determine whether a trademark gives rise to a likelihood of confusion: the strength of the mark, relatedness/proximity of the goods, evidence of actual confusion, defendant’s intent, and the degree of care exercised by purchasers. The court concluded that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether there is a likelihood of confusion under the initial interest confusion theory. Finally, the court held that the customer-generated use of a trademark in the retail search context is a use in commerce. In this case, Amazon's purpose is not less commercial just because it is selling wares, not advertising space. Therefore, the court declined to affirm the district court on the alternative ground that Amazon’s use is not a use in commerce. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Multi Time Machine v. Amazon.com" on Justia Law

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Hope Road, an entity owned by Bob Marley's children, granted Zion an exclusive license to design, manufacture, and sell t-shirts and other merchandise bearing Marley's image. Hope Road and Zion filed suit against multiple defendants who were involved in the sale of competing Marley merchandise, alleging claims arising from defendants' use of Marley's likeness. The court concluded that the district court did not err by denying defendants' post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law on the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), false endorsement claim where defendants waived several defenses to plaintiffs' claims by failing to properly raise them in the district court; the district court did not abuse its broad discretion in determining the profits for Defendants A.V.E.L.A., Freeze, and Jem where there was sufficient evidence to find Freeze willfully infringed plaintiffs' rights because Freeze's vice president of licensing testified that she knew that plaintiffs had the right to merchandising Marley's image before Freeze began selling similar goods; the Seventh Amendment does not require that a jury calculate these profits because juries have not traditionally done so, and a claim for profit disgorgement is equitable in nature; the district court did not abuse its discretion by ordering A.V.E.L.A. defendants to pay attorneys' fees; the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants on the right of publicity claim; there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that A.V.E.L.A. defendants interfered with prospective economic advantage; and the district court did not err in granting defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. View "Fifty-Six Hope Road Music v. A.V.E.L.A." 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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Pom Wonderful, owner of the "POM" standard character mark, filed a trademark infringement claim against Pur to stop Pur from using the word "pom" on its pomegranate-flavored energy drink. On appeal, Pom Wonderful challenged the district court's order of its motion for a preliminary injunction. The court reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion in finding that Pom Wonderful is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claim. Because the district court's decision to deny Pom Wonderful's motion for a preliminary injunction was tainted by its mistaken likelihood-of-success determination, the court remanded with instructions to the district court to consider whether Pom Wonderful meets its burden of proving the other elements of a preliminary injunction. View "Pom Wonderful v. Hubbard" 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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SoCal filed suit against Defendant Zaffina and his company, SoCal Inc., alleging violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq.; the California Business and Professions Code; common law trademark infringement; and unfair competition. The court concluded that the district court did have jurisdiction over SoCal's claim under the Lanham Act; the district court properly concluded that SoCal had the capacity to bring its Lanham Act claim in federal court; SoCal had standing to sue; and SoCal's motion for summary judgment was properly served on Zaffina. On the merits, the court concluded that SoCal was entitled to summary judgment where the contested marks are protectable, SoCal owns these marks, and Zaffina's use of these marks is likely to cause confusion. The court held that unincorporated associations have the capacity to own trademarks and the district court's assumption that SoCal has the capacity to own the contested marks was correct. The court rejected defendant's remaining claims and affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment. View "S. Cal. Darts Ass'n v. Zaffina" on Justia Law

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Quinta Real appealed from the district court's conclusion that expansion of Quinta Real's Mexican hotel business into the United States would result in a likelihood of consumer confusion with La Quinta. The court held that the "use in commerce" element of the Lanham Act claims under section 32 and 43(a) is not connected to the Lanham Act's jurisdictional grant in 15 U.S.C. 1121(a), which grants federal subject-matter jurisdiction without any reference to a "use in commerce" requirement. Therefore, the court concluded that there is federal subject-matter jurisdiction over the trademark claims. The court also concluded that the district court correctly found a likelihood of confusion, but did not provide a sufficient analysis balancing the equities in its decision to grant a permanent injunction. The court held that the defense of laches did not apply. The court affirmed in part and remanded for further assessment of the equities. View "La Quinta Worldwide v. Q.R.T.M." 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