Articles Posted in Intellectual Property

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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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Slep-Tone produces karaoke music tracks marketed under the trademark "Sound Choice" on encoded compact discs (CD-G). Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants for, inter alia, trademark infringement after finding out that defendants were using unauthorized media-shifted files instead of Slep-Tone's original CD-Gs. The district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss. Slep-Tone argues that, by "media-shifting" its tracks from physical CD-Gs to digital files and performing them without authorization, defendants committed trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act,15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125. The court agreed with the Seventh Circuit's holding that "the ‘good’ whose ‘origin’ is material for purposes of a trademark infringement claim is the ‘tangible product sold in the marketplace’ rather than the creative content of that product." Therefore, the court concluded that Slep-Tone failed to plausibly allege consumer confusion over the origin of a good properly cognizable in a claim of trademark infringement. Accordingly, the court affirmed as to this issue. In a concurrently filed memorandum opinion, the court also reversed in part and remanded in part. View "Slep-Tone Entertainment Corp. v. Wired for Sound Karaoke" 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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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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The mark “Crazy Horse” has been associated with adult entertainment since the 1950's. In this appeal, at issue is whether Russell Road’s use of the mark “Crazy Horse III” for its Las Vegas strip club infringes defendants Frank Spencer and Crazy Horse Consulting’s rights to the trademark “Crazy Horse.” The district court granted summary judgment to Russell Road. The court agreed with the district court that Russell Road has the right to use the mark because it is the assignee of a valid trademark co-existence agreement entered into with the former owner of the registered Crazy Horse mark. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Russell Road Food & Beverage v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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JL Beverage filed suit against Jim Beam, alleging trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. The district court granted summary judgment for Jim Beam. In its summary judgment ruling, the district court used the standard applicable to preliminary injunctions instead of the standard for summary judgment rulings. Balancing the Sleekcraft factors as a whole, the court concluded that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to the likelihood of consumer confusion. In this case, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that: the JLV Mark has conceptual strength because the Mark’s salient feature, the color-coordinated lips, requires consumers to use their imagination to connect the color to the vodka flavor; the Lips Mark has conceptual strength because the lips have no commonly understood connection to the vodka product; Johnny Love Vodka does or does not have commercial strength (because a finding of either would support one of JL Beverage’s theories of confusion–reverse or forward); Johnny Love and Pucker Vodka are related flavored-liquor products sold to the same customers and distributors; the products are similar given their use of color-coordinated, puckered human lips as the focal point of their bottle designs; consumers purchasing the vodka products are not likely to exercise a high degree of care in distinguishing between the two; and Jim Beam was aware of JL Beverage’s trademarks prior to rolling out its Pucker Vodka line. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "JL Beverage v. Jim Beam Brands" 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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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