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

Articles Posted in Copyright
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The Ninth Circuit wrote to clarify the role that de minimis copying plays in statutory copyright. The de minimis concept is properly used to analyze whether so little of a copyrighted work has been copied that the allegedly infringing work is not substantially similar to the copyrighted work and is thus non-infringing. However, once infringement is established, that is, ownership and violation of one of the exclusive rights in copyright under 17 U.S.C. 106, de minimis use of the infringing work is not a defense to an infringement action.The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants based on a putative de minimis use defense in a copyright case involving plaintiff's photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. The panel applied the Perfect 10 server test, concluding that Wilmott's server was continuously transmitting the image to those who used the specific pinpoint address or were conducting reverse image searches using the same or similar photo. Therefore, Wilmott transmitted and displayed the photo without plaintiff's permission. Furthermore, Wilmott's display was public by virtue of the way it operated its servers and its website. The panel also concluded that the "degree of copying" was total because the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted Indianapolis photo. Accordingly, there is no place for an inquiry as to whether there was de minimis copying. On remand, the district court must consider Wilmott's remaining defenses, and it can address the questions surrounding plaintiff's ownership of the Indianapolis photo, in addition to the other defenses raised by Wilmott. View "Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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When an AM/FM radio station plays a song over the air, it does not pay public performance royalties to the owner of the original sound recording. Digital and satellite radio providers like Sirius, however, must pay public performance royalties whenever they broadcast post-1972 music. Before a 2018 amendment to the copyright law, 17 U.S.C. 1401(b), they did not have to pay royalties for playing pre-1972 music under federal law. State law was less clear.The district court held that California law, which grants copyright owners an “exclusive ownership” to the music, creates a right of public performance for owners of pre-1972 sound recordings and that Sirius must pay for playing pre-1972 music. The Ninth Circuit reversed, looking to the common law in the 19th century when California first used the phrase “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute. At that time, no state had recognized a right of public performance for music, and California protected only unpublished works. Nothing suggests that California upended this deeply-rooted common-law understanding of copyright protection when it used the word “exclusive ownership” in its copyright statute in 1872, so “exclusive ownership” does not include the right of public performance. View "Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Desire filed suit against various defendants for copyright infringement, the district court held that Desire owned a valid copyright in the fabric design that was the subject of the action (the Subject Design), and that the Subject Design was entitled to broad copyright protection. The jury returned a verdict for Desire, finding that Manna, ABN, and Top Fashion willfully infringed the Subject Design, and that Pride & Joys and 618 Main innocently infringed the Subject Design.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Desire on the validity of its copyright and the scope of the Subject Design's copyright protection. The panel explained that the "similarity" of one design to another has no bearing on whether Desire "independently created" the subject design. Furthermore, defendants have also failed to introduce evidence that the Subject Design lacked the necessary "modicum of creativity" to be entitled to a valid copyright. The panel also held that the district court correctly extended broad copyright protection to the Subject Design. However, the panel held that the district court erred in permitting multiple awards of statutory damages. In this case, the district court correctly apportioned joint and several liability among the defendants, but the Copyright Act permits only one award of statutory damages here. Therefore, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the judgment awarding Desire multiple awards of statutory damages, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Desire, LLC v. Manna Textiles, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's summary judgment in favor of defendants on a copyright infringement claim and affirmed the district court's dismissal and grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on a trademark claim concerning the book "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!," (the mash-up) a Dr. Seuss and Star Trek mash-up.The panel held that the mash-up does not make fair use of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" (the original work). The panel explained that the purpose and character of the mash-up; the nature of the original work; the amount and substantiality of the original work; and the potential market for or value of Seuss, all weigh against fair use. The panel concluded that the bottom line is that ComicMix created, without seeking permission or a license, a non-transformative commercial work that targets and usurps the original work's potential market, and ComicMix cannot sustain a fair use defense. The panel also held that Seuss does not have a cognizable trademark infringement claim against ComicMix because the Lanham Act did not apply under the Rogers test. In this case, the allegedly valid trademarks in the title, the typeface, and the style of the original work were relevant to achieving the mash-up's artistic purpose, and the use of the claimed original work trademarks was not explicitly misleading. View "Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP v. ComicMix LLC" on Justia Law

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Four Seasons front man Frankie Valli and other defendants associated with Jersey Boys did not infringe Rex Woodard's copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito, now owned by Donna Corbello, Woodard's surviving wife.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, after a jury trial in favor of defendants, on the sole ground that Jersey Boys did not infringe DeVito's biography, and so the panel did not reach the district court's fair use rationale. The panel rests its decision primarily on the unremarkable proposition that facts, in and of themselves, may not form the basis for a copyright claim. In this case, each of the alleged similarities between the Play and the Work are based on historical facts, common phrases and scenes-a-faire, or elements that were treated as facts in the Work and are thus unprotected by copyright, even though now challenged as fictional. The panel explained that neither Valli nor the other defendants violated Corbello's copyright by depicting in the Play events in their own lives that are also documented in the Work. Therefore, because the Play did not copy any protected elements of the Work, there was no copyright infringement. View "Corbello v. Vallli" on Justia Law

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Oracle, owner of the proprietary Solaris software operating system, filed suit alleging that HPE improperly accessed, downloaded, copied, and installed Solaris patches on servers not under an Oracle support contract. Oracle asserted direct copyright infringement claims for HPE's direct support customers, and indirect infringement claims for joint HPE-Terix customers. The district court granted summary judgment for HPE.The Ninth Circuit held that the copyright infringement claim is subject to the Copyright Act's three year statute of limitations, which runs separately for each violation. The panel explained that Oracle's constructive knowledge triggered the statute of limitations and Oracle failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into the suspected infringement. The panel also held that the intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claim is barred by California's two year statute of limitations. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's partial summary judgment for HPE on the infringement and intentional interference claims. The panel also affirmed in part summary judgment on the indirect infringement claims for patch installations by Terix; reversed summary judgment on all infringement claims for pre-installation conduct and on the direct infringement claims for unauthorized patch installations by HPE; and addressed all other issues in a concurrently filed memorandum opinion. View "Oracle America, Inc. v. Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment after a jury trial and award of attorneys' fees in favor of Unicolors in a copyright infringement action against H&M, where Unicolors alleged that a design it created in 2011 is remarkably similar to a design printed on garments that H&M began selling in 2015.The panel held that courts may not consider in the first instance whether the Register of Copyrights would have refused registration due to the inclusion of known inaccuracies in a registration application. In this case the district court erred by imposing an intent-to-defraud requirement for registration invalidation and erred in concluding that Unicolors’s application for copyright registration did not contain inaccuracies despite the inclusion of confined designs.The panel held that the plain meaning of "single unit" in 37 C.F.R. 202.3(b)(4)(i)(A) requires that the registrant first published the collection of works in a singular, bundled collection. The panel explained that it is an inaccuracy for a registrant like Unicolors to register a collection of works as a single-unit publication when the works were not initially published as a singular, bundled collection. Furthermore, the undisputed evidence adduced at trial further shows that H&M included the inaccurate information "with knowledge that it was inaccurate." Therefore, the panel remanded to the district court with instructions to submit an inquiry to the Register of Copyrights asking whether the known inaccuracies contained in the '400 Registration application, if known to the Register of Copyrights, would have caused it to refuse registration. View "Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Dolores' motion for recovery of attorney's fees under the Copyright Act. The district court had granted summary judgment for Dolores on Doc's Dream's complaint seeking a declaration that the late religious leader Dr. Eugene Scott completely abandoned his works to the public domain. The district court then denied Dolores' motion for attorney fees under 17 U.S.C. 505.The panel held that, even when asserted as a claim for declaratory relief, any action that turns on the existence of a valid copyright and whether that copyright has been infringed invokes the Copyright Act. Therefore, attorney's fees may be available under section 505 of the Copyright Act. View "Doc's Dream, LLC v. Dolores Press, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, a licensing company, alleging that the Burbank High School student show choirs failed to obtain licenses for their use of copyrighted sheet music in arranging a show choir performance.The panel held that plaintiff lacked standing to sue as to three of the four musical works at issue, and that the defense of fair use rendered the use of the fourth work noninfringing. In regard to the three works, plaintiff received its interests in the three songs from individual co-owners of copyright, without the consent of the other co-owners, and therefore held only nonexclusive licenses in those works. The panel held that the use of the fourth work was a fair use in light of the limited and transformative nature of the use and the work's nonprofit educational purposes in enhancing the educational experience of high school students. Finally, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion in denying defendants' motion for attorneys' fees under 17 U.S.C. 505, and remanded for the calculation of the award. View "Tresóna Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action alleging copyright infringement by the Disney movie Inside Out of plaintiffs' characters called The Moodsters. After plaintiff developed The Moodsters, anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions, she pitched to entertainment and toy companies around the country, including The Walt Disney Company.The panel held that, under DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. 2015), lightly sketched characters such as The Moodsters, which lack consistent, identifiable character traits and attributes, do not enjoy copyright protection. Furthermore, under Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broad. Sys., 216 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1954), The Moodsters are chessman in the game of telling the story. In this case, the panel applied the alternative "story being told" test and held that The Moodsters as an ensemble are no more copyrightable than the individual characters. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claim for an implied-in-fact contract where plaintiff was required under California law to do more than plead a boiler-plate allegation, devoid of any relevant details. View "Daniels v. The Walt Disney Co." on Justia Law