Pattishall IP Blog

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.

*     *     *

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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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.

 *     *     *

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. 


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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February 23, 2012

What’s In A (Domain) Name? What A Cybersquatter Calls A Web Site By Any Other Name Would Not Sell For A Million Dollars Or Provide A Platform For A Three-Year Old’s Artwork

Filed under: Cybersquatting — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:41 pm

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

In “one [of] a series of domestic disputes between” Paul Bogoni and Vicdania Gomez, Gomez registered the domain names paulbogoni.org and paulbogoni.com without his authorization.[1]  She offered to sell the domain names for $1 million each and posted content on one of them related to certain of her and her daughter’s artwork.  Bogoni sued under the personal name protection provisions of the Anti-cybersquatting Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 8131, seeking a preliminary injunction.  He prevailed when Gomez’s defense of use in connection with a copyrighted work failed to show her good faith registration.  Bogoni v. Gomez, No. 11 civ 08093 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2012).[2]

Gomez initially populated paulbogoni.org with statements that her three-year old daughter wrote and operated the website, which would donate proceeds to charity from the sale of art objects called “Angel” and “Airplane.”  A message on the site stated, “Hi, I’m Vittoria and this my [sic] first website that my mommy helped me launch in order to begin my journey in making the world a better place.”  The web site advised visitors that the two art objects were constructed at an arts institution named “Make Meaning in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”  The “Airplane” object was titled “Bogoni.”  Finally, the web site displayed the following statement: “I will am [sic] also selling this domain name http://www.PAULBOGONI.ORG and http://www.PAULBOGONI.COM for $1Million (ONE MILLION DOLLARS) each.”  A photograph of “Airplane” appeared on the web site a month after the filing of Bogoni’s complaint and Gomez never explained the relationship between the name Bogoni and the “Airplane.”

Under these facts, Bogoni satisfied his burden to show that Gomez: (1) registered a domain name that consists of his name; (2) did so without the Bogoni’s consent; and (3) had the specific intent to profit from Bogoni’s name by selling the domain name for financial gain.[3]  The court’s analysis turned on the availability of a defense to cybersquatting liability for

“good faith registration of a [personal] domain name . . . if such name is used in, affiliated with, or related to a work of authorship protected under Title 17 . . . and if the person registering the domain name is the copyright owner or licensee of the work [and] the person intends to sell the domain name in conjunction with the lawful exploitation of the work.”

15 U.S.C. § 8131(1)(B).

The Court found that Gomez exhibited an absence of good faith based upon the facts in evidence, and her offer to sell the domain names was not “in conjunction” with the sale of the two art objects.  Thus, she did not qualify for this copyrighted work defense.  The Court’s injunction did not require Gomez to transfer the domain names, however, but only required her to stop using them, which she did by removing all content.  Currently, paulbogoni.org simply states “underconstruction.”

This decision illustrates a key distinction between a claim over the use of a personal name as a domain name under the ACPA versus the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy: the UDRP does not protect personal names that are not trademarks as well, even the names of famous people who do not use their names in connection with a designation for their business.  See http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/search/overview2.0/ (response to question 1.6).  Business executives who find themselves subject to attack or pseudo-extortion through domain names incorporating their personal names may be able to take advantage of this targeted ACPA claim, as well as claims under state laws protecting rights of privacy.

* * *

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] Although the Court is vague on specifics, this statement is telling: “[T]he parties made clear to the Court during oral argument that the parties’ relationship is, at the very least, contentious.”

[3] The Court discussed at some length whether Bogoni satisfied the third prong of this test because of some prior decisions finding that personal name cybersquatting to recover a debt would avoid liability.  See Carl v. BernardJCarl.com, 409 F. App’x 628, 630 (4th Cir. 2010) (per curium) (unpublished).

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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.

November 30, 2011

Green Day Awarded Attorneys’ Fees Against Artist After Defeating Copyright Infringement and Unfair Competition Claims With Fair Use Defense

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

Categories: Copyright, Litigation
Tags: Copyright, Fair Use, Attorney’s Fees, Phillip Barengolts

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

Green Day, a punk band most of us know for the song Good Riddance,[1] and others remember for songs like Basket Case,[2] was sued by artist Derek Seltzer for copyright infringement and unfair competition over Green Day’s use of his work Scream Icon in connection with Green Day’s song East Jesus Nowhere.[3]  More precisely, Green Day’s co-defendant Roger Staub, a photographer and set designer photographed a torn Scream Icon poster he saw on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Avenue in Los Angeles, altered the color and contrast, added a brick background, and superimposed a red spray-painted cross over the image.  On summary judgment, Green Day defeated the copyright claim with a fair use defense and the unfair competition claim because Green Day did not use Scream Icon in a trademark manner.[4]  For a thorough discussion of that decision, see Professor Tushnet’s post at http://tushnet.blogspot.com/2011/08/fair-useaesthetic-functionality-save.html.  Seltzer has appealed the ruling and briefing is scheduled to close in April 2012.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Court awarded Green Day $128,000 and its co-defendants an additional $72,000 in attorneys’ fees.  Seltzer v. Green Day, Inc., No. 10-2103 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 17, 2011).[5]  In an arguably close case that turned on fair use analysis, why did the court grant Green Day its fees?  Let’s take a closer look.

Under the Copyright Act, a court “may award a reasonable attorneys’ fee to the prevailing party . . .” 17 U.S.C. § 505.  The court properly referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994), which highlighted that a prevailing defendant must be treated similarly to a prevailing plaintiff in the award of attorneys’ fees.  The court observed, “The pivotal inquiry is whether the successful defense furthered the goals of the Copyright Act.”  It then proceeded to analyze the Ninth Circuit’s attorneys’ fees factors: “ (1) the degree of success; (2) frivolousness; (3) motivation; (4) the objective unreasonableness of the losing party’s factual and legal arguments; and (5) the need, in particular circumstances, to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.

Immediately, we see a problem for the plaintiff when, according to the court, plaintiff cited to bad law in the Ninth Circuit, which had established a “dual” standard for attorneys’ fees in copyright claims – plaintiffs usually won them, defendants had to show a plaintiff’s claim was objectively unreasonable or frivolous.  The court was harsh: “Plaintiff’s citation to Hustler, a case applying the ‘dual’ standard rejected by the Supreme Court in Fogerty, edges close to an affirmative attempt to mislead the Court.” (more…)

November 16, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution: RIAA Does Not Agree that ReDigi’s “Legally Downloaded Digital Music” Marketplace Qualifies for First Sale Protection

Filed under: Copyright — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 1:11 pm

Categories:  Copyright
Tags:  Copyright, e-commerceJake Linford

Guest Post by Jake Linford, Assistant Professor, Florida State University College of Law

Two potentially revolutionary “disruptive technologies” were back in the news this week. The first is ReDigi, a marketplace for the sale of used “legally downloaded digital music.” For over 100 years, copyright law has included a first sale doctrine, which says I can transfer “lawfully made” copy* (a material object in which a copyrighted work is fixed) by sale or other means, without permission of the copyright owner. The case law is codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109.

ReDigi says its marketplace falls squarely within the first sale limitation on the copyright owner’s right to distribute, because it verifies that copies are “from a legitimate source,” and it deletes the original from all the seller’s devices. The Recording Industry Association of America has objected to ReDigi’s characterization of the fair use claim on two primary grounds,** as seen in this cease and desist letter.

First, as ReDigi describes its technology, it makes a copy for the buyer, and deletes the original copy from the computer of the seller. The RIAA finds fault with the copying. Section 109 insulates against liability for unauthorized redistribution of a work, but not for making an unauthorized copy of a work. Second, the RIAA is unpersuaded there are ReDigi can guarantee that sellers are selling “lawfully made” digital files. ReDigi’s initial response can be found here.

At a first cut, ReDigi might find it difficult to ever satisfy the RIAA that it was only allowing the resale of lawfully made digital files. Whether it can satisfy a court is another matter. It might be easier for an authorized vendor, like iTunes or Kindle, to mark legitimate copies going forward, but probably not to detect prior infringement.

Still, verifying legitimate copies may be easier than shoehorning the “copy and delete” business model into the language of § 109. Deleting the original and moving a copy seems in line with the spirit of the law, but not its letter. Should that matter? ReDigi attempts to position itself as close as technologically possible to the framework spelled out in the statute, but that’s a framework designed to handle the sale of physical objects that embody copyrightable works.

This is not the only area where complying with statutory requirements can tie businesses in knots. Courts have consistently struggled with how to think about digital files. In London-Sire Records v. Does, the court had to puzzle out whether a digital file can be a material object and thus a copy* distributed in violation of § 106(3). The policy question is easy to articulate, if reasonable minds still differ about the answer: is the sale and distribution of digital files something we want the copyright owner to control or not?

As a statutory matter, the court in London-Sire concluded that material didn’t mean material in its sense as “a tangible object with a certain heft,” but instead “as a medium in which a copyrighted work can be ‘fixed.’” This definition is, of course, driven by the statute: copyright subsists once an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which it can be reproduced, and the Second Circuit has recently held in the Cablevision case that a work must also be fixed — embodied in a copy or phonorecord for a period of more than transitory duration — for infringement to occur. Policy intuitions may be clear, but fitting the solution in the statutory language sometimes is not. And a business model designed to fit existing statutory safe harbors might do things that appear otherwise nonsensical, like Cablevision’s decision to keep individual copies of digital videos recorded by consumers on its servers, to avoid copyright liability.

Potentially even more disruptive is the 3D printer, prototypes of which already exist in the wild, and which I will talk more about tomorrow.

* Technically, a digital audio file is a phonorecord, and not a copy, but that’s a distinction without a difference here.

** The RIAA also claims that ReDigi violates the exclusive right of public performance by playing 30 second samples of members’ songs on its website, but that’s not a first sale issue.

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg.

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October 12, 2011

District Court Denies Preliminary Injunction because Plaintiff Failed to Introduce Evidence of Irreparable Harm – Declares Presumption of Irreparable Harm in Trademark Cases Dead

Filed under: Copyright, Gray Market, Litigation — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:16 am

Categories:  Gray Market, Litigation, Copyright
Tags: Preliminary Injunction, Gray Market, Software, Copyright, Phillip Barengolts

By Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

AFL Telecommunications LLC (“AFL”) sells FUJIKARA fusion splicers[1] in the U.S. under an exclusive license from Fujikura Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer of fiber optic equipment.  AFL also is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fujikara.  SurplusEQ.com, Inc. and friends (“SurplusEQ”) import FUJIKURA fusion splicers intended for sale outside the U.S. and sell them over the Internet to U.S. consumers.  In other words, SurplusEQ sells gray market FUJIKARA fusion splicers.

AFL sued SurplusEQ and moved for a preliminary injunction over these sales, claiming unfair competition, false advertising, and copyright infringement.[2]  SurplusEQ moved to dismiss.  The Court denied AFL’s motion for preliminary injunction because AFL failed to provide evidence of irreparable harm under the standard announced in eBay v. MercExchange L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006)[3] and Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008). It also denied SurplusEQ’s motion to dismiss, except for a common law unfair competition claim that AFL did not properly articulate.  AFL Telecomm. LLC v. SurplusEQ.com, Inc., 11-01086 (D. Ariz. Sep. 14, 2011).[4]

The facts here are relatively straightforward: 1) the parties dispute whether the U.S. market splicers are materially different from the foreign market splicers sold by SurplusEQ, which allegedly alters them in some way; and 2) the copyrighted software that operates the splicers is made abroad originally, so it falls within the type of claim allowable under Omega S.A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 541 F.3d 982, 985 (9th Cir. 2008), aff’d per curiam, 131 S. Ct. 565 (2010). (more…)

January 11, 2011

Filing Requests With eBay That Improperly Allege Copyright Infringement Can Result in Liability Under Section 512(f) of the DMCA

Filed under: Copyright — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:50 pm

Categories: Copyright
Tags: Copyright, Digital Millennium Copyright Act

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) offers copyright owners and Internet service providers with new avenues to assert and avoid liability.  As part of the DMCA’s regime, a copyright owner can request that a service provider, e.g., a website, which hosts third-party content that the copyright owner deems infringing to take down such content.  However, a copyright owner who misrepresents to a service provider that third-party content is infringing can be held liable to the alleged infringer for any damages incurred by the improper takedown of the third-party content.  In particular, Section 512(f) provides in pertinent part: “[a]ny person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section . . . that material or activity is infringing . . . shall be liable for any damages .. . incurred by the alleged infringer . . . who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider . .. removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing . . . .” 17 U.S.C. § 512(f).

In Design Furnishings, Inc. v. Zen Path, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:10-2765 (E.D. Cal. 2010),[1] the parties both sold wicker furniture predominantly through eBay.  Zen Path sent numerous takedown requests to eBay based upon its alleged ownership of copyrights in various furniture designs, which eBay honored, resulting in a substantial reduction of Design Furnishings’ sales and injury to Design Furnishings’ reputation among eBay users.  After some fruitless exchanges between the parties regarding the copyrightability of Zen Path’s furniture designs and other matters, Design Furnishings filed suit and requested a preliminary injunction to stop Zen Path’s submission of takedown requests to eBay.  Design Furnishings’ primary allegation was that Zen Path did not own copyrights in the furniture at issue and knowingly misrepresented its ownership of protectable rights to eBay in violation of Section 512(f).  Ultimately, the Court granted a preliminary injunction to the plaintiff prohibiting the defendant from “notifying eBay that defendant has copyrights in the furniture and that plaintiff’s sales violate these copyrights.” (more…)

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