Pattishall IP Blog

June 26, 2014

Aereo’s Internet-Based Television Streaming Services May Be Wizardry, But the Supreme Court is in No Mood for Magic

Filed under: Copyright, Internet, Litigation — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:17 pm

Ekhoff_Jessica_2 F LRby Jessica Ekhoff, Associate

Describing its Internet-based television streaming services, tech start-up Aereo proclaims, “It’s not magic. It’s wizardry.”[1] In yesterday’s 6-3 decision the Supreme Court disagreed, or at the very least, adopted a staunchly anti-wizardry stance.[2]

Justice Breyer, writing for the majority in American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, Inc., characterized the issue before the Court as whether “Aereo, Inc., infringes this exclusive right [of public performance under §106(4) of the Copyright Act] by selling its subscribers a technologically complex service that allows them to watch television programs over the Internet at about the same time as the programs are broadcast over air.”[3] Despite Aereo’s self-description as a mere equipment supplier doing no “performing” of its own, the Court held in the affirmative.

The Court analyzed the issue in two parts: whether Aereo “performed” under the Copyright Act, and if so, whether the performance was “public.”

In concluding that Aereo did, in fact, perform under the Copyright Act, the majority of the Court turned to the 1976 amendments to the Act, which were adopted, in large part, to bring community antenna television, or CATV—the precursor to cable television—within the scope of the Act. CATV functioned by placing antennas on hills above cities, then using coaxial cables to carry the television signals received by the antennas into subscribers’ homes. CATV did not select which programs to carry, but rather served as a conduit for the transmission and amplification of television signals. Before the 1976 amendments, Supreme Court precedent considered CATV to be a passive equipment supplier that did not “perform” under the Act.[4] After the amendments, to “perform” an audiovisual work such as a television program meant “to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.”[5] CATV thus “performed” the shows it transmitted because it both showed the television programs’ images to its subscribers, and made the accompanying sounds audible. Over a strong dissent authored by Justice Scalia[6], the majority found that, because its services were so similar to those once offered by CATV, Aereo also “performed” under the post-1976 definition of the term.[7]

Having determined that Aereo’s services constitute a performance under the Copyright Act, the Court next turned to the issue of whether those performances are public. Aereo argued its services do not constitute public performance because whenever a subscriber selects a program to watch, Aereo places a unique copy of the show in that subscriber’s folder on Aereo’s hard drive, which no one other than that subscriber can view. If another subscriber wants to watch the same show, she will receive her own copy of the program in her own folder from Aereo. The Court dismissed this argument, finding the “technological difference” inconsequential in light of Congress’s clear intent to bring anything analogous to CATV within the scope of the Copyright Act’s requirements. Under the post-1976 Act, an entity performs a copyrighted work publicly any time it “transmits” a performance. A performance is “transmitted” when it is communicated by any device or process beyond the place from which it is sent, whether the recipients receive the transmission at the same time and place, or at different times and places.[8] Aereo therefore publicly performs a copyrighted television program each time its system sends a copy of that program to a subscriber’s personal Aereo folder.

The majority characterized its holding as a “limited” one, and was careful to emphasize that its decision does not apply to other new technologies, such as cloud-based storage and remote storage DVRs. But with a slew of amici curiae predicting the decision could have a catastrophic impact on the tech industry, there are surely some who will take no comfort from the Court’s assurances. Aereo, unfortunately, may not have a spell to resurrect itself.

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Jessica Ekhoff is an associate with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, trade secret and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues. Jessica’s practice focuses on trademark, trade dress, copyright and false advertising litigation, as well as film clearance, media and entertainment, and brand management.

[1] https://www.aereo.com/about

[2] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-461_l537.pdf

[3] American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, Inc., No. 13-461, slip op. at 1, 573 U.S. __ (2014).

[4] Fortnightly Corp. v. United Artists Television, Inc., 392 U.S. 390 (1968); Teleprompter Corp. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 415 U.S. 394 (1974).

[5] 17 U.S.C. § 101.

[6] Justice Scalia argues that Aereo does not “perform” because it is the subscriber, rather than Aereo, who selects the program she wishes to watch, which in turn activates the individual antennae Aereo has assigned to her for the purpose of viewing that program. This means it is the subscriber who is doing the performing, since she is the one rousing Aereo’s antennae from dormancy and calling up a specific program to watch. Justice Scalia went on to note that although he disagrees with the majority’s interpretation of “perform,” he agrees that Aereo’s activities ought not to be allowed, either because Aereo is secondarily liable for its subscribers’ infringement of the Networks’ performance rights, or because it is directly liable for violating the Networks’ reproduction rights. If future courts fail to find Aereo liable under either of those theories, Justice Scalia advocates relying on Congress to close the loophole. Slip Op. at 12.

[7] Slip Op. at 8.

[8] 17 U.S.C. § 101.

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April 29, 2014

Performance of Magic Trick Protected Under Copyright Law, Nevada District Court Holds

Filed under: Copyright, Litigation — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 11:03 am

SIA-LRBy: Seth I. Appel, Associate

A renowned illusionist has achieved a very real victory in court. The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada held that Teller’s performance of his Shadows magic trick is protected under copyright law, even though the magic trick itself is not. Teller v. Dogge, 110 USPQ2d 1302 (D. Nev. 2014).[1]

Teller – a well-known magician, best known as half of Penn & Teller – has performed Shadows for over three decades. This illusion involves a spotlight pointed at a vase containing a rose, projecting a shadow onto a screen as shown below:

Magic Trick-Teller Blog Post

Teller, wielding a large knife, slowly cuts the leaves and petals of the rose’s shadow on the screen. Meanwhile, the corresponding leaves and petals of the real rose fall to the ground.

Teller brought a lawsuit against Gerard Dogge, a Dutch performer who uploaded to YouTube two videos of himself performing a similar illusion, entitled The Rose and Her Shadow.

Dogge’s caption for the videos stated: “I’ve seen the great Penn & Teller performing a similar trick and now I’m very happy to share my version in a different and more impossible way with you.” Dogge admitted that he posted the videos in an attempt to sell the illusion’s secret.

The court last month court granted Teller’s motion for summary judgment on his copyright infringement claim, holding that Teller’s performance of Shadows is subject to copyright protection. While magic tricks are not protected under copyright law, the court explained, the Copyright Act protects “dramatic works” and “pantomimes.” 17 U.S.C. § 102(a). “The mere fact that a dramatic work or pantomime includes a magic trick, or even that a particular illusion is its central feature does not render it devoid of copyright protection,” the court found.

The court rejected Dogge’s argument that Teller had waived his copyright because his partner, Penn Jillette, had issued a challenge of sorts, publicly stating that “no one will ever figure out” Shadows. This statement, the court observed, “merely provokes others to unearth the secret, not perform the work.” And for copyright purposes, the secret behind the trick is insignificant: “the performance it is used for is everything.”

Having determined that Teller’s illusion merited copyright protection, the court had no trouble finding infringement. Applying the Ninth Circuit’s two-part analysis – an “extrinsic test” and an “intrinsic test” – the court found that Teller’s Shadows and Dogge’s The Rose and Her Shadow were substantially similar.

The court noted that the two parties’ illusions were “nearly identical twins,” even though their secrets may have been different.

In discerning substantial similarity, the court compares only the observable elements of the works in question. Therefore, whether Dogge uses Teller’s method, a technique known only by various holy men of the Himalayas, or even real magic is irrelevant, as the performances appear identical to an ordinary observer.

Last week the court set trial for June 2, 2014, to determine whether Dogge committed willful infringement and to decide Teller’s unfair competition claim.

In its summary judgment order, the court noted that the magic community has traditionally blackballed performers who reveal other magicians’ secrets. This case confirms that wronged magicians also may have another avenue for relief, in federal court.

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Seth I. Appel is an associate attorney at Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Appel’s practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling with respect to trademark, trade dress, copyright and Internet law.

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[1]http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=12052870780115350990&q=teller+v+dogge&hl=en&as_sdt=400006.

 

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February 7, 2014

Utilitarian Shape of Hookah Not Subject to Copyright Protection, Even if Distinctive, Ninth Circuit Holds

Filed under: Copyright, Litigation — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:27 pm

SIA-LRBy: Seth I. Appel, Associate

Inhale Inc.’s efforts to protect the shape of its hookah under copyright law went up in smoke, as the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Starbuzz Tobacco, Inc.  Inhale, Inc. v. Starbuzz Tobacco, Inc., 739 F.3d 446 (9th Cir. 2014).[1]

Inhale, a designer and manufacturer of smoking products, sold the hookah[2] shown below:

Hooka

It obtained a U.S. copyright registration for this product.

Inhale sued Starbuzz for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that Starbuzz sold a similar hookah.  Inhale’s claim was based entirely on the shape of Starbuzz’s hookah.  For purposes of the lawsuit, Inhale disclaimed copyright protection to the skull-and-crossbones graphic.

The district court granted Starbuzz’s motion for summary judgment in 2012, holding that Inhale did not own a valid copyright in the shape of its hookah, notwithstanding its registration.  Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Copyright Act generally protects “original works of authorship,” including sculptural works.  But it does not protect “useful articles.”  Under the Copyright Act, a “useful article” is “an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information.”  17 U.S.C. § 101.

Individual design elements of a useful article may be subject to copyright protection, to the extent that they “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.”  17 U.S.C. 101.  Such protectable elements may be either physically separable or conceptually separable.

Inhale argued that the shape of its hookah was conceptually separable from its utilitarian features, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed.  It explained:  “The shape of a container is not independent of the container’s utilitarian function—to hold the contents within its shape—because the shape accomplishes the function.”  739 F.3d at 449.

The court, citing Copyright Office practice, rejected Inhale’s contention that the distinctiveness of the hookah shape affected the separability analysis.  The court observed:

Although Inhale’s water container, like a piece of modern sculpture, has a distinctive shape, “the shape of the alleged ‘artistic features’ and of the useful article are one and the same.”

739 F.3d at 449 (quoting Compendium of Copyright Office Practices II, § 505.03).

The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees to Starbuzz under 17 U.S.C. § 505, and further awarded Starbuzz its attorneys’ fees on appeal.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is a blow to producers of creative works that have utilitarian functions, including other sculptural works such as bottles and vases.  In view of this decision, it may be harder for such entities to address copying by competitors – at least under copyright law.

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Seth I. Appel is an associate attorney at Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Appel’s practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling with respect to trademark, trade dress, copyright and Internet law.


[1] http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=621471655821174883

[2]A hookah is a device for smoking tobacco, in which the smoke passes through a water basin, which filters and cools the smoke before it is inhaled by the user.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hookah.

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September 30, 2013

The Likely Impact of a Federal Government Shutdown on the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Copyright Office, and Federal Courts

Filed under: Copyright, TM Registration, Trademark (General) — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:10 pm

By Belinda Scrimenti, Partner

Like many areas of commerce to be effected in the United States, the threatened government shutdown – currently scheduled for midnight on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 – will impact trademark owners, copyright applicants, and federal court litigants.  Immediately available information suggests that a brief shutdown would have little impact, but the impact of a longer shutdown is uncertain.  We will keep current status information posted here.

Patent and Trademark Office

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has announced that, in the event the October 1, 2013 shutdown comes to pass, it will remain open and will continue to operate as usual for a period of as much as four weeks.  The USPTO is able to keep its doors open because it has enough available reserve fee collections  to remain in operation until that date.  Should a shutdown occur and continue longer than the four-week period, the USPTO has advised that it “would shut down at that time, although a very small staff would continue to work to accept new applications and maintain IT infrastructure, among other functions.”  The USPTO has advised that it will continue to post information on its website as it becomes available.  The agency’s plan for an orderly shutdown are available on page 78 of the United States Department of Commerce’s shutdown plan.  http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2013/september/2013_doc_lapse_in_appropriations_plan_9_27.pdf

Copyright Office

The United States Copyright Office has not issued any public release about its operations during a shutdown.  Like all agencies, it will be required to follow Office of Management and Budget procedures outlining an orderly shutdown, which will leave only “exempt” (i.e., essential) personnel in place.  It remains unclear what effect this would have on services, such as, for example, the issuance of expedited copyright registrations during a shutdown.

Federal Courts

The federal court system will face a more urgent shutdown date.  The Judiciary has announced that, should Congress not agree on a continuing resolution to fund the government before October 1, “the federal Judiciary will remain open for business for approximately 10 business days. “

On or around October 15, the Judiciary has advised that it “will reassess its situation and provide further guidance.”  The Judiciary also advised that, “[a]ll proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised.”  The Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents with the courts.

The Judiciary has not provided further guidance as to the potential shutdown after October 15.However, the contingency plans likely would be comparable to those announced at the time of the threatened April 2011 shutdown.  At that time, the Judiciary described those functions as “limiting activities to those functions necessary and essential to continue the resolution of cases. All other personnel services not related to judicial functions would be suspended.”  Further guidance during that earlier threatened shutdown suggested that criminal trials would continue as needed, but left uncertain the impact on civil cases.

Following this expectation, late today The Department of Justice published its contingency shutdown plan which can be found at:  http://www.justice.gov/jmd/publications/doj-contingency-plan.pdf.  It “assumes” only a five-day furlough for planning purposes.  With respect to litigation, the Department of Justices’ plan assumes that the Judicial Branch will continue to operate through the furlough, noting that criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.  However, the plan provides that civil litigation “will be curtailed or postponed to the extent that this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property,” and requires DOJ civil litigators to seek postponement of such cases.

Check back here for current updates.

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Belinda Scrimenti is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Belinda’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, copyright, trade dress, and Internet law, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.  She has worked on numerous matters relating to the registration, protection, and enforcement of trademarks, and litigated in over 40 U.S. federal district courts.

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March 19, 2013

Supreme Court’s Wiley Gray Goods Decision Does Not Foreclose Trademark Options Against Gray Market Goods

Filed under: Copyright, Gray Market — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:51 pm

jsj_lowres

By Jonathan S. Jennings, Partner

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that copyright law would not protect against most gray market works.[1]  It is important to remember, however, that U.S. federal and state trademark and unfair competition laws still provide effective remedies against the importation, sale and distribution of gray market goods.

In most cases, a brand owner in the U.S. must establish that it owns a valid trademark here in the United States, or is an exclusive licensee, and that there are material differences between the authorized domestic product and the gray market product that bear the mark.  Trademark law protects consumers from confusion when they encounter a product with the same trademark, but that has materially different components, functionality, or health and safety information or warnings.  Federal courts have restricted the sale of gray market goods under trademark and unfair competition law involving a wide variety of goods from soft drinks and packaged foods, to pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, among others.  In many cases, the gray market good is not appropriate for sale in the U.S. because it is tailored to the tastes, preferences, conditions and laws of another country, and not the U.S.  The Tariff Act as well, and, to a lesser extent because of a labeling exception, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Lever Rule may provide additional protections against gray market goods.  Finally, for famous brands, anti-dilution laws may provide a remedy.

The Court’s decision in Wiley does not impact these trademark and unfair competition remedies, as it is limited to copyright protection.  Therefore, when faced with a gray market goods problem, a brand owner should explore remedies available under trademark and unfair competition laws, notwithstanding this copyright decision.

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Jonathan S. Jennings is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues. Mr. Jennings counsels clients on a variety of trademark, copyright and unfair competition cases, has handled over 50 successful gray market goods trademark and unfair competition suits, and is the former Chair of INTA’s Parallel Imports Committee. 


October 15, 2012

Motley Crue Successfully Moves for Dismissal of Suit Involving Copyright in “Too Fast for Love” Album Artwork

Filed under: Copyright, Litigation — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 11:17 am

by Jeffrey A. Wakolbinger

On October 9, 2012, Judge Grady, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, dismissed a copyright-infringement action against rock band Mötley Crüe for lack of personal jurisdiction.[1]

The suit was brought by Ron Toma, who owns copyrights in certain photographs of band members Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, and Tommy Lee.  One of those photographs was a close up of singer Vince Neil’s waist area, featuring a prominent studded belt buckle (the “Belt Buckle Image”).

The photograph was taken by Michael Pinter in 1981 and used as the cover artwork for Mötley Crüe’s debut album, “Too Fast for Love.”  Toma acquired the copyright in that image in 2008 through assignment.  In September 2011, he filed a complaint in the Northern District of Illinois against Motley Crue, Inc., alleging that the defendants infringed his copyright in the Belt Buckle Image by projecting it on screen during live performances.  He later amended the complaint to add the band’s touring company, Red White & Crue, Inc, as a defendant.  The only specific example of alleged infringement in the complaint is a link to a YouTube video showing live footage from a concert in Las Vegas, during which the Belt Buckle Image was displayed on a screen while the band performed the title track of the album.  Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Toma asserted the defendants were subject to general and specific jurisdiction in Illinois.  Relying on a declaration submitted by bass player, Nikki Sixx, Defendants asserted that they had no physical or legal presence in Illinois.  Toma argued otherwise, citing the band’s performances in Illinois, relationships with Illinois vendors, album and merchandise sales in Illinois, and activities related to a settlement agreement resolving a prior lawsuit with Toma in Illinois.  (This was actually Toma’s third suit against the band, notwithstanding that he apparently was a fan—his declaration stated that he attended Mötley Crüe concerts in Illinois in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2005, and 2006.)  The court found these contacts to be “extensive in the aggregate” but not “continuous and systematic” as required to meet “the demanding standard required to subject the defendants to general jurisdiction in Illinois.” (more…)

September 27, 2012

Publication of Noelia’s Secret Wedding Photos Not Fair Use, Ninth Circuit Finds

Filed under: Copyright, First Amendment, Litigation — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:10 pm

By: Seth I. Appel

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a gossip magazine’s publication of photographs of a secret celebrity wedding did not constitute fair use under the Copyright Act.  Monge v. Maya Magazines, Inc., 688 F.3d 1164 (9th Cir. Aug. 14, 2012).

Noelia Lorenzo Monge, the Puerto Rican pop singer and model known to the world as Noelia, married her manager, Jorge Reynoso, in January 2007.  The couple attempted to keep their marriage a secret to maintain Noelia’s image as a single sex symbol.  Only the minister and two chapel employees witnessed the wedding ceremony.  For two years Noelia and Reynoso succeeded in keeping their marriage a secret, even from their families.

In the summer of 2008, Oscar Viqueira, a paparazzo who worked as a driver and bodyguard for Noelia and Reynoso, discovered a memory chip containing photographs of the wedding night.  Viqueira sold the photos to Maya Magazines for $1,500, without Noelia’s or Reynoso’s permission.

Maya published three photos of the wedding ceremony, and three additional photos from the wedding night, in Issue 633 of TVNotas Magazine.  Until then, the photos had been unpublished.  The TVNotas cover headline stated:  “The Secret Marriage of Noelia and Jorge Reynoso in Las Vegas.”  The photo spread inside referred to the “first and exclusive photos of the secret wedding.”  Issue 633 was the first time the public learned of the wedding – including Reynoso’s mother, who berated her son for getting married without telling her.

Noelia and Reynoso promptly registered the copyrights in five of the photos and then brought suit against Maya for copyright infringement.  The Central District of California granted summary judgment in favor Maya based on fair use.  2010 WL 3835053 (Sept. 30, 2010).  The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Fair use is an affirmative defense to copyright infringement.  The fair use doctrine, the Ninth Circuit explained, presumes that unauthorized copying has occurred but protects such copying under certain circumstances.  Section 107 of the Copyright Act enumerates four factors for courts to consider in evaluating a fair use defense:

(1)       the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2)       the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3)       the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4)       the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (more…)

April 27, 2012

Hey Ya! District Court Dismisses Copyright Lawsuit Against André 3000’s “Class of 3000″

Filed under: Copyright, Litigation — Tags: , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:40 pm

by Seth I. Appel, Trademark Attorney

In 1997, Timothy McGee pitched an animated TV series, “The Music Factory of the 90’s,” to The Cartoon Network.  McGee’s show, set in Atlanta, centered on Tony “The Play Maker” Rich, a wealthy corporate attorney who leaves his law firm to become a music producer.  The show would feature animated versions of well-known guest musicians.  Each episode would include a musical performance, and at the end of the episode the guests would appear in their live-action state.  The show would deal with serious issues such as racism and violence, and it aimed to teach viewers lessons about the music industry and life.  The Cartoon Network rejected “The Music Factory of the 90’s” because it did not meet the network’s programming needs at the time.

Nearly ten years later, The Cartoon Network debuted “Class of 3000,” an animated series co-created and co-produced by Andre “Andre 3000″ Benjamin, best known as one-half of the hip-hop duo Outkast.  This show was also set in Atlanta.  It focused on Sunny Bridges, a musical superstar who returned to Atlanta to teach, and his students at a performing arts school.  Sunny displayed supernatural abilities and lived in a magical house in the woods.  Benjamin provided the voice of Sunny, and each episode included his original music.  According to the complaint, “Class of 3000″ taught viewers lessons, and the plan was for animated versions of real artists to appear on the show.

In May 2008, “Class of 3000″ concluded its second and final season.  Shortly following, McGee brought suit against Benjamin, The Cartoon Network, and its parent company, Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc., alleging copyright infringement and other claims.

The court granted the motion to dismiss of The Cartoon Network and TBS, the only defendants that McGee served, because McGee was unable to show probative similarity between “The Music Factory of the 90’s” and “Class of 3000.”  McGee v. Benjamin 3000, 102 U.S.P.Q.2d 1299 (D. Mass. March 20, 2012).

To demonstrate copyright infringement a plaintiff must establish (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.  There was no dispute McGee satisfied the first element.  He owned a copyright registration for a treatment of “The Music Factory of the 90’s” and related materials.  However, McGee could not demonstrate actionable copying.

In the First Circuit, establishing copying involves two steps.  First, the plaintiff must show that the defendant “actually copied the work as a factual matter,” either through direct evidence or through indirect evidence of access and probative similarity.  In comparing the works to determine similarity, only protectible elements are relevant; the court must ignore “unprotected ideas or unoriginal expressions.”  Second, if court finds probative similarity, then it considers substantial similarity.  “Two works are substantially similar if a reasonable, ordinary observer, upon examination of the two works would conclude that the defendant unlawfully appropriate the plaintiff’s protectable expression.”

The court found McGee’s claims insufficient with respect to probative similarity.  McGee’s vague references to similarities in “location, characters, content, format, and dramatis personnae” were not enough.  The only specific similarities, the court explained, were that both shows take place in Atlanta; both shows involve the music industry; and both shows involve a character who left his job to try something new.  But McGee does not have the exclusive right to any of these elements.

McGee’s argument regarding probative similarity runs up against several hurdles often encountered by those who seek to enforce a copyright in a treatment for a television show, movie, or theatrical performance. Most notably, there are very few elements of the Music Factory treatment that are original; most of the alleged similarities are noncopyrightable “basic concepts and ideas” or “stock scenes and characters.”

Because ideas are not protected by copyright, whether or not the defendants copied McGee’s ideas was irrelevant.  Further, under the scenes a faire doctrine, copyright generally does not protect “plots, subplots or themes” insofar as they are “for all practical purposes indispensable, or at least customary, in the treatment of a given subject matter.”  For example, “the plot device of a protagonist leaving one profession to embark on an unrelated profession with little experience but considerable passion is a familiar one.”

Likewise, copyright does not protect stock characters.  The court found that several characters in the parties’ shows, such as young musicians and a tough executive, were largely stock characters.  Meanwhile, the shows’ main characters – Sunny and The Play Maker – were “in certain fundamental senses … almost polar opposites.”

Therefore, McGee’s copyright claim failed based on the absence of probative similarity.  The court added that McGee also could not establish substantial similarity.  In that regard, it pointed to additional differences in “format and tone,” and added that the themes of the two shows were in conflict.  While “The Music Factory of the 90’s” celebrated the pursuit of money and fame, “Class of 3000″ emphasized the love of music and creativity.

McGee reflects the difficulty in establishing copying infringement in this context.  Copyright owners must beware that basic concepts and ideas are not protectable, nor are routine storylines or stock characters.  Superficial similarities between creative works are often not actionable.

Seth I. Appel is an associate attorney at Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Appel’s practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling with respect to trademark, trade dress, copyright and Internet law.

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January 18, 2012

Peter and the Wolf Leave the Public Domain – Supreme Court Holds Copyright Restoration Law is Constitutional

Filed under: Copyright — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 5:59 pm

by Uli Widmaier

On January 18, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Golan v. Holder, No. 10-545, 565 U.S. — (2012), that a law bestowing U.S. copyright protection on certain foreign works that had previously been in the public domain is constitutional under both the Copyright Clause of the Constitution and the First Amendment.  Justice Ginsburg authored the opinion.  Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Alito.  Justice Kagan took no part in consideration or decision of the case.[1]

The Supreme Court’s holding is important because it affirms the accession of the U.S. to a system of international IP protection under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  It also clarifies the reach of Congress’s authority under the Constitution to legislate in the copyright arena.

1.     Background

In 1989, the U.S. joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.  Article 18 of the Berne Convention provides that “a work must be protected abroad unless its copyright term has expired in either the country where protection is claimed or the country of origin.”  Golan, at 3.  The U.S., however, did not comply with Art. 18.  Prior to 1998, U.S. copyright protection of foreign works was limited.  A foreign work did not enjoy copyright protection in the U.S. for one of three reasons: (1) the U.S. did not protect works from the country of the origin at the time of the work’s publication; (2) the U.S. did not protect sound recordings fixed before 1972; and (3) the work’s author had not complied with certain statutory formalities relating to copyright notice, registration, and renewal, that were formerly required under U.S. copyright law.  See Golan at 1, 4.

When the United States joined both the WTO and TRIPS, continued noncompliance with Art. 18 of the Berne Convention could have given rise to significant sanctions such as “tariffs or cross-sector retaliation.”  Golan at 8.  To bring the U.S. into compliance with Art. 18, Congress in 1998 enacted Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), codified at 17 U.S.C. §§ 104A & 109(a).  Section 514 “restores” copyright protection to foreign works that were not protected in the U.S. for one of the three reasons set forth above.[2]  Specifically, “restored” copyrights in such works “subsist for the remainder of the term of copyright that the works would have otherwise been granted . . . if the work never entered the public domain.”  17 U.S.C. § 104A(a)(1)(B).

Section 514 grants copyright protection to works that were previously available in the U.S. without such protection.  In other words, it removes these works from the public domain.  This has significant real-world effects.  For example, prior to enactment of Section 514, orchestras could rent the sheet music for famous musical works such as Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, or the great symphonies of Shostakovich for relatively low fees.  With U.S. copyright in these works newly established, the rental fees became drastically higher, making it economically impossible for many ensembles to afford to perform these works.  See generally Brief of the Conductors Guild as Amicus Curiae supporting Petitioners (filed Nov. 24, 2010).[3]

2.     The Supreme Court’s Analysis

The petitioners appealed from a Tenth Circuit ruling rejecting their argument “that Congress, when it passed the URAA [including Section 514], exceeded its authority under the Copyright Clause and transgressed First Amendment limitations.”  Golan, at 11.  The Supreme Court disagreed, refuting each of the petitioners’ arguments.

(a)     Copyright Clause – “Limited Times”

The Copyright Clause states in relevant part that “Congress shall have Power . . . [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors . . . the exclusive Right to their . . . Writings.” Art. I, §8, cl. 8.

Petitioners argued that “removing works from the public domain . . . violates the ‘lim­ited [t]imes’ restriction by turning a fixed and predictable period into one that can be reset or resurrected at any time, even after it expires.”  Golan at 14 (citations and quotation marks omitted).  According to Petitioners, the works in question had enjoyed an initial “limited term” of “zero” duration, and it was unconstitutional to extend that term.

The Supreme Court made short work of the “zero” argument.  “[S]urely a ‘limited time’ of exclusivity must begin before it may end.”  Golan, at 15.  More generally, the Court held, the term “limited times” is “best understood to mean confined within certain bounds, restrained, or circumscribed.”  Golan at 14 (citations and quotation marks omitted).  Section 514 provided a “restrained” and “circumscribed” copyright term for these former public-domain works and thus does not violate the “limited times” clause.  Golan at 14-15.

Moreover, the Court found ample historical precedent of Congress’s removing works from the public domain and giving them copyright protection.  Importantly, the Court noted, “the Copyright Act of 1790 granted protection to many works previously in the public domain.”  Golan at 16.  In short, the Court held, “[g]iven the authority we hold Congress has, we will not second-guess the political choice Congress made be­tween leaving the public domain untouched and embrac­ing [the Berne Convention] unstintingly.”  Golan at 19.

(b)     Copyright Clause – “Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”

Petitioners argued that the Copyright Clause mandates that any copyright laws passed by Congress must “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”  Golan at 20.  But a law providing new copyright protection to an existing work in the public domain cannot possibly incentivize the creation of new works.  Therefore, according to Petitioners, such a law is unconstitutional.  Id.  The Supreme Court disagreed.  “A well-functioning international copyright system would likely encourage the dissemination of exist­ing and future works. . . . The provision of incentives for the creation of new works is surely an essential means to advance the spread of knowledge and learning. We hold, however, that it is not the sole means Congress may use “[t]o promote the Pro­gress of Science.” . . . Congress determined that exem­plary adherence to Berne would serve the objectives of the Copyright Clause. We have no warrant to reject the ra­tional judgment Congress made.”  Id. at 22-23.

3.     First Amendment

Petitioners argued that they “enjoyed ‘vested rights’ in works that had already entered the public domain,” and depriving them of these rights by withdrawing the works from the public domain violates petitioners’ First Amendment rights.  Golan, at 26.  The fact that copyright law protects First Amendment interests via doctrines such as the idea/expression dichotomy or the fair use doctrines cannot, in Petitioners’ view, compensate for Congress’s “unprecedented foray into the public domain.”  Id. (quotation marks omitted).

The Supreme Court noted that this argument depends on a premise the Curt had already rejected, “namely, that the Constitution renders the public domain largely untouchable by Congress.”  Id.  Moreover, the Court noted, granting copyright protection to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf or to Shostakovich’s symphonies merely puts these works on equal footing in the marketplace with “music of Prokofiev’s U.S. contemporaries: works of Copland and Bernstein, for example, that enjoy copyright protection, but nevertheless appear regularly in the programs of U.S. concertgoers.”  Golan, at 29.  The Court stated that there is no “free speech principle [that would disarm Congress] from protecting works prematurely cast into the public domain for reasons antithetical to the Berne Convention.”  Id. at 28.

In short, “[b]y fully implementing [the Berne Convention], Congress ensured that most works, whether foreign or domestic, would be governed by the same legal regime.”  Id. at 30.  Neither the Copyright Clause nor the First Amendment prevents Congress from determining “that U.S. interests were best served by our full participation in the dominant system of international copyright protection.”  Golan, at 32.

4.     The Dissent

In dissent, Justice Breyer argued that the Copyright Clause embodies a strong “utilitarian view of copyrights and patents” and places “great value on the power of copyright to elicit new production.”  Golan, Breyer Dissent, at 5, 7.  Therefore, since a law bestowing copyright on existing works that were – often for decades – in the public domain does not in any meaningful way elicit the production of new works, the law – Section 514 – is unconstitutional.  See id.  Justice Breyer also notes the “speech-related harms” arising from Section 514, such as “restricting use of previously available material; reversing payment expectations; [and] rewarding rent-seekers at the public’s expense.”  Id. at 16.

The Court should therefore have scrutinized “with some care the reasons claimed to justify [Section 514] in order to determine whether they constitute reasonable copyright-related justifications for the serious harms, including speech-related harms, which [Section 514] seems likely to impose.”  Id. at 16-17.  Applying such scrutiny, Justice Breyer concludes that “the Copyright Clause, interpreted in light of the First Amendment, does not authorize Congress to enact this statute.”  Id. at 24.

5.     Conclusion

In Golan v. Holder, the Supreme Court strongly affirmed Congress’s authority to legislate freely in the copyright area.  “The judgment §514 expresses lies well within the ken of the political branches.”  Golan, at 32.  Neither the Copyright Clause nor the First Amendment imposes strict or inflexible limitations on Congress’s power.

From a political perspective, the Supreme Court’s decision has the important effect of affirming the place of the United States within the legal structure of international intellectual property law.  In deciding the case, the Supreme Court had Congress’s intent to protect the United States’ international interests firmly in mind.  “Those interests in­clude ensuring exemplary compliance with our interna­tional obligations, securing greater protection for U. S. authors abroad, and remedying unequal treatment of foreign authors.”  Id.

*  *  *

Uli Widmaier is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals. The firm advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Uli’s practice focuses on domestic and international trademark, copyright, trade dress and Internet law and litigation.


[footnotes]

[1] A copy of the opinion and the dissent is available at: http://www.pattishall.com/pdf/golanscotusruling.pdf.

[2] The Supreme Court noted that “[r]estoration is a misnomer insofar as it implies that all works protected under Section 104A previously enjoyed protection. Each work in the public domain because of lack of national eligibility or subject ­matter protection, and many that failed to comply with formalities, never enjoyed U. S. copyright protection.”  Golan, at 10 n. 15.

December 27, 2011

Stylish Baby Bottoms: Kimberly-Clark Wins Copyright Battle Over Diaper Jeans

Filed under: Copyright — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:23 pm

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

As the father of two little boys, I’ve changed thousands of diapers in the last three years, but never diaper jeans.  Apparently, I’m missing out.  The owner of a copyright in certain diaper jeans sued Kimberly-Clark, which sold jean diapers.[1]  Kimberly-Clark moved to dismiss the claims because the alleged designs were not substantially similar, and prevailed. Pollick v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., Case No. 11-12420 (E.D. Mich. Sep. 23, 2011).[2]   The Court stated, “Perhaps frivolous, Plaintiff’s complaint was plainly objectively unreasonable,” and granted Kimberly-Clark its attorneys’ fees as well.  Images of the plaintiff’s and defendant’s diaper designs are below.

The Judge analyzed the lack of similarities as follows:

First, the color of the diapers: Plaintiff’s diaper comes in two colors, white or light blue; Defendant’s comes in one color, dark blue. Second, the pattern of the diapers: Plaintiff’s diaper comes in two patterns, flat white or flat light blue; Defendant’s comes in one pattern, distressed blue denim. Third, the color of the stitching: Plaintiff’s diaper has red stitching; Defendant’s has either black or gold stitching. Fourth, the front pockets: Plaintiff’s diaper has two pockets, indicated by a straight line and a curved line; Defendant’s has three pockets, the larger two pockets indicated by a single curved line and a rivet at the top, and the third, smaller pocket inset within one of the larger pockets and indicated by a gently curving line and a rivet at the top. Fifth, the front fly: Plaintiff’s diaper indicates the fly with a single straight line (with no button); Defendant’s indicates the fly with a straight line and curved line, a button, and thicker hashed lines representing reinforced stitching. Sixth, the front belt loops: Plaintiff’s diaper has none; Defendant’s has two, one above each larger pocket with thicker lines representing reinforced stitching. Seventh, the back belt loops: Plaintiff’s diaper has none; Defendant’s has three with thicker lines representing reinforced stitching. Eighth, the back label: Plaintiff’s diaper has an embroidered “Diaper Jeans” on the left side of right pocket; Defendant’s diaper has a patch with “Huggies® Little Movers EST. 1975″ above the right pocket between the belt loops. And ninth, the back waist: Plaintiff’s waist is indicated by a single straight line and single v-line; Defendant’s is indicated by a double straight line and v-line.

The above contains considerable factual analysis at the motion to dismiss stage.  Under the Twombly/Iqbal standard articulated by the Supreme Court, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that are facially plausible.  Here, a picture is worth a thousand words (actually, 272 in the quoted section).  You be the judge.

For businesses facing a copyright infringement suit, this type of ruling helps pave the way for efficient resolutions of copyright disputes at the pleading stage.  Many judges, however, would not rule at such an early stage of the proceeding, preferring to allow the litigation to play out to a greater extent, including discovery.  This judge had no such qualms and clearly saw this case a certain way.

*     *     *

Phillip Barengolts is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Barengolts’ practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling in domestic and international trademark, trade dress, Internet, and copyright law.  He teaches trademark and copyright litigation at John Marshall Law School, and co-authored Trademark and Copyright Litigation, published by Oxford University Press.


[footnotes]

[1] Yes, they’re the same thing, but the parties insisted on their own names.

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