• IP BLAWG

    Copyrighted Flowers Have Only So Many Damages Petals

    Beverly A. Berneman
    5/18/21

    In Brief:  A plaintiff can’t get multiple statutory damages awards for the infringement of one work.

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  • IP BLAWG

    A Lot of Mine and Some of Yours

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/16/21

    Hiller LLC provides plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical services to residential and commercial customers. Hiller was a member of Success Group International that offers management advice and customer service training. Success Group used licensed copyrighted training manuals owned by its predecessor, Clockwork IP LLC.

    Hiller decided to create its own training materials and hired an independent contractor who conducted a series of workshops and researched Hiller’s business. The end product was an HVAC technicians Guide. The Guide had original illustrations, its own content and its own arrangement of the information. Small portions of the Guide incorporated information that had been contained the Success Group training manuals. The independent contractor assigned the copyright in the Guide to Hiller.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Oh the Places You Can’t Boldly Go

    Beverly A. Berneman
    1/26/21

    For almost four years, comics’ legend, Ty Templeton, and Star Trek’s “Trouble with Tribbles Episode” writer, David Gerrold and their company, ComicMix, have been in litigation with the Dr. Seuss Estate. ComicMix is trying to publish a graphic comic called “Oh, The Places You'll Boldly Go.” The comic mashed Dr. Seuss’ “Oh The Places You’ll Go” with Star Trek characters. ComicMix said it was fair use. The Dr. Seuss Estate said no.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Big Girls Don’t Cry Over Fact or Fiction

    Beverly A. Berneman
    12/8/20

    The Jersey Boys is a Broadway musical (the “Play”) about the musical quartet, The Four Seasons (the “Band”). It debuted in 2005 and ran for over 10 years, toured the country repeatedly and was adapted into a movie in 2014.

    In the late 1980s, Band member, Tommy DeVito wrote an autobiographical “tell all" book about the Band. The book was ghost-written by Rex Woodard (“the Work”).  The Work was completed before the Play had been written and produced.

    DeVito’s widow, Donna Corbello, sued Frankie Valli (the Band’s lead singer) and a lot of other people for copyright infringement alleging that the Play was an unauthorized derivative of the Work.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Everybody Does It Fails as a Defense

    Beverly A. Berneman
    11/10/20

    Some of you may recall the argument you used with your parents that went something like “Everyone else gets to go” or “Everyone else’s parents let them [fill in the blank]”. Chances are that these arguments were unsuccessful.

    Elie Tahari Ltd. learned that “Everybody does it” doesn’t work in a copyright infringement case either.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Copyright Trolling Hasn’t Died

    Beverly A. Berneman
    11/3/20

    In 2017, I awarded the grand prize for IP criminals to the disgraced Prenda Law Firm. This stain on the legal profession had created honey pot porn websites and then sued people who downloaded their content for copyright infringement. The lesson of creating your own porn to entice illegal downloads seems to have resonated. But wholesale copyright infringement cases are still out there.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Dueling Embedding Decisions

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/27/20

    Embedding is a technical process that allows one website to link to and incorporate content from a second website. So when the user visits the first website, they see the content on the second website even though the content is actually still on the second’s website. 

    In the past couple of years, there have been two decisions about whether or not embedding is copyright infringement.

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  • IP BLAWG

    The Sky Has Its Limits

    Beverly A. Berneman
    7/21/20

    Retired attorney, Richard Bell, had a cottage industry suing people for copyright infringement of a picture of the Indianapolis skyline. Richard alleged that he took the photo in March 2000 for his law firm’s website. He registered the copyright in 2011, after his former law firm stopped using the photo on its website.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Star Struck is Struck

    Beverly A. Berneman
    5/26/20

    Kfir Moyal is a pop artist who has created commissioned pieces for celebrities like the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Gloria Estefan, Flo Rida and Lil’ Kim. His signature style is to take a photograph and add a glittery sheen to it.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Zazzle’s Defense Didn’t Dazzle the Court

    Beverly A. Berneman
    5/5/20

    Zazzle, Inc. is an on-line marketplace for imprinted merchandise. Zazzle will then imprint the image on things like coffee mugs, t-shirts and, these days, face masks. Zazzle uses stock images but it also allows someone to upload their artwork or a graphic.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Halloween Goes Bananas

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/29/19

    In 2017, Rasta Imposta sued Kmart for copyright infringement because Kmart was selling a virtually identical banana costume (See Blawg Post dated 10/31/2017). The parties settled. Then Rasta Imposta’s competitor, Kangaroo Manufacturing Inc. started selling a substantially similar banana costume. The founder of Kangaroo had once worked for Rasta Imposta and knew that Rasta Imposta had registered the copyright in the banana costume. But Kangaroo manufactured and sold the banana costume anyway.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Angels Fall from Grace

    Beverly A. Berneman
    4/23/19

    VidAngel Inc. removed nudity and violence from films and then sold the ‘redacted’ versions. Disney Enterprises, Inc. its subsidiary Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. sued VidAngel for copyright infringement.

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  • IP BLAWG

    No Shortcut for Copyright Plaintiffs

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/5/19

    In my blog post of August 1, 2017, I posed the copyright litigation dilemma: “To File or Not to File”. On March 4, 2019, the US Supreme Court resolved the dilemma once and for all.

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  • IP BLAWG

    There’s No Crying in Copyright Infringement

    Beverly A. Berneman
    1/22/19

    The Copyright Act allows the recovery of actual damages; but not everything is included. %CUT% Rachel Ann Nunes wrote a novel called Bid for Love. Tiffanie Rushton admitted that she copied some of Bid for Love for her book, The Auction Deal. Rachel sued Tiffanie for copyright infringement. Rachel claimed that her actual damages were the lost sales of two books she didn’t write because of the emotional distress she suffered as a result of the infringement. The court held that the Copyright Act does not provide for the recovery of damages for emotional distress. So Rachel had no actual damages. However, she still is entitled to statutory damages.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Welcome to My Star Battles Party

    Beverly A. Berneman
    11/6/18

    Captain America, Thor and Iron Man can’t save your party guests without a license. %CUT% Characters for Hire, LLC (“CFH”) advertises premium entertainment for parties and private events by booking actors dressed like popular characters. CFH offers hero characters and famous characters from popular scifi/fantasy movies. Understanding that Disney, Marvel and LucasFilm own the rights to characters that fall into those categories, CFH used generic names like "Big Green Guy" (Hulk) and “The Dark Lord” (Darth Vader). Similarly, CFH advertised themed parties that referenced Plaintiffs’ movies, such as “Frozen Themed” (Frozen), “Avenging Team” (The Avengers), and “Star Battles” (Star Wars). But CFH used the original images of the characters in its ads (see picture). After CFH ignored several cease and desist letters, Disney, Marvel and LucasFilm sued. The court entered summary judgment against the plaintiffs on trademark infringement. The court appeared to put a lot of weight on the fact that the plaintiffs couldn’t show actual confusion and there was enough notice that CFH was not affiliated with the plaintiffs. But the court will proceed on the other counts of unfair competition, dilution and copyright infringement. So CFH can’t breathe a sigh of relief yet.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Agents of Copying

    Beverly A. Berneman
    7/10/18

    Great Minds don’t always think alike when it comes to copyright infringement. %CUT% Great Minds is a company that publishes school books, including a math book. Great Minds licenses use of the book to schools for free as long as it is for strictly non-commercial use. Great Minds uses the Creative Commons non-commercial license for these deals. A school district in New York had FedEx make copies of the book instead of using the school’s copiers and staff. Great Minds sued FedEx for copyright infringement arguing that it licensed the work to the school district and not FedEx. Great Minds tried to distinguish between the school staff making copies and the school ‘jobbing’ out the project to FedEx. In affirming a ruling against Great Minds, the Second Circuit held that there really was no difference between school employees making copies and having FedEx’s copy service making copies. The Court identified FedEx as an agent of the school district. Under pure agency principals, the school district’s license to copy would extend to FedEx.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Spring/Summer 2018 Update

    Beverly A. Berneman
    6/13/18

    The last word sometimes isn’t really the last word. Here’s what happened after some previous posts: %CUT%

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  • IP BLAWG

    The Long and Winding Road of Tom Brady Photos

    Beverly A. Berneman
    4/17/18

    Embedding a Twitter photo can be copyright infringement. %CUT% It all started when Justin Goldman took photos of Tom Brady and posted them on Snapchat. Content on Snapchat is supposed to disappear after a while. These photos didn’t. Instead, the photos ended up being reposted on various social media sites, including Twitter. Some media outlets then embedded the third party tweets with the photos in articles on their respective websites. Goldman filed suit against the media outlets for copyright infringement. The defendants brought a motion to dismiss arguing that they aren’t liable because they were protected under the “Server Test”. The Server Test says that images generated by a search engine, like Google, aren’t copyright infringement because search engines don’t store images. The court denied the motion. This wasn’t a case of linking to the origin of the photos. The defendants actively embedded the images which were immediately available upon opening the offending webpage.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Peeling the Software Onion Can Cause Tears

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/20/18

    Software can have lots of layers like an onion which can be trouble for an infringement lawsuit. %CUT% In CSS, Inc. v. Herrington, CSS complained that the defendants infringed on three of its copyrighted software programs. The programs were made up of a lot of different components, including third party software and abstract ideas. The court’s opinion peeled the layers of CSS’s software onions to get to the decision. First, the court peeled off the function that each program performed because they were "ideas" of the programs and not their expression. Then the court peeled away the client/server architecture used by each of the programs because that was non-copyrightable industry-standard. Next came the third party components because they didn’t belong to either party. Next came the arrangement of the third party components didn’t have enough creativity for copyright protection. Then the court peeled away the layer that was the name/address algorithm because it was unoriginal and not copyrightable. Once the court got to the small onion core of protectable software that was left, the court held that CSS didn’t prove substantially similarity between CSS’s onion core and the defendants’ onion core. CSS may have had something that was protectable, but after peeling away the uncopyrightable components of its software it couldn’t prove infringement.

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  • IP BLAWG

    I’ve Been Framed

    Beverly A. Berneman
    2/14/18

    Website framing can be copyright infringement. %CUT% “Framing” is the display of content on a website that is independent of the original content creator. In Leader’s Institute LLC v. Jackson, Robert Jackson left Leader’s Institute to work for a competitor, Magnovo Training Group. Leader’s Institute sued claiming misappropriation of trade secrets and trademark infringement. Magnovo brought a counterclaim alleging that Leader’s Institute had committed copyright infringement by framing Magnovo’s copyrighted content on Leader’s Institute’s website. The court granted partial summary judgment to Magnovo on the copyright infringement claim. The court held that programming its website to display Magnovo’s copyrighted works is considered an unauthorized public display of a work of authorship under Copyright Law.

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  • IP BLAWG

    An Oracle’s Prophecy of Infringement

    Beverly A. Berneman
    1/30/18

    You don’t need an Oracle to predict the outcome of working outside the scope of a license. %CUT% Rimini Street, Inc. was hired by one of Oracle USA, Inc.’s licensees to develop and test updates for the licensee’s customers. But Rimini started using Oracle’s software to develop products for its other clients who didn’t have a license from Oracle. Oracle sued and won a copyright infringement judgment. Rimini appealed and lost at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Rimini had two interesting affirmative defenses that were rejected by the court. First, Rimini said it had an express license. While it had an express license with respect to a single licensee, it didn’t have a blanket express license to use the software for anyone else. Second, Rimini argued that Oracle was misusing the copyright. Copyright misuse is an equitable defense against copyright infringement allowing copyright infringers to avoid infringement liability if the copyright holder has engaged in abusive or improper conduct in exploiting or enforcing the copyright. In other words, Rimini was accusing Oracle of being a copyright bully because Oracle wasn’t allowing Rimini to get a head start with Oracle’s future software licensees. The court rejected this argument. As the owner of the software, Oracle had every right to control the use of its software by potential future licensees.

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  • IP BLAWG

    No Vicarious Thrills Here

    Beverly A. Berneman
    12/5/17

    Be careful not to control someone else’s infringing activities. %CUT% Barcroft Media Ltd. provides a video and image library available for download. Photographer, Jeffrey R. Werner, filed suit against Barcroft alleging that it allowed Valnet Inc. to download his photos without his consent. Jeffrey alleged that Barcroft materially contributed to Valnet’s infringement by granting Valnet a retroactive license. Barcroft brought a motion to dismiss arguing that Jeffrey didn’t state a claim. The court denied the motion deciding that Jeffrey stated a claim for vicarious liability and contributory infringement. Although the court expressed some doubt as to whether Jeffery’s going to be able to prove the facts to support his case.

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  • IP BLAWG

    There is no Shame in That

    Beverly A. Berneman
    11/28/17

    Submitting an idea doesn’t mean you own it. %CUT% Author, Dan Rosen, had a screenplay called “Darci’s Walk of Fame”. For those who are not ‘in the know’, the standard elements of a walk of shame are: (1) a one night stand; (2) waking up the next morning in someone else’s bed; and (3) having to walk (or taxi or Uber or Lyft) home in the clothes you wore the night before. Dan was lucky to get a meeting with actress and producer, Elizabeth Banks and her husband to present his screenplay. After discussing the plot line, characters, and themes, Banks and her husband took a pass. Not long after the meeting, Banks starred in the 2014 movie “Walk of Shame” which wasn’t exactly a box office hit. Dan’s assignee, Shame on You Productions, Inc. sued Banks, her husband, and the film’s production based on copyright infringement and an implied contract. The court applied the extrinsic test to determine if infringement occurred. The extrinsic test focuses on specific similarities between two works. Scenes a faire (standard situations that flow naturally from the plot) are disregarded. The two works shared the “walk of shame” premise and some natural elements that flowed from it, but the narratives and characters were different. Shame on You’s case was dismissed and affirmed on appeal.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Spooky Banana Halloween

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/31/17

    A banana costume could infringe on a banana costume. %CUT% If you bought a banana costume for Halloween today, you may have purchased a copyright infringing product. Rasta Imposta sued Kmart for selling alleged knockoffs of Rasta Imposta’s banana costume. Costumes are generally considered clothing which are useful articles and can’t be copyrighted (Whimiscality, Inc. v. Rubie’s Costumes which held a child’s pumpkin costume could not be copyrighted). But masks can be copyrighted because they aren’t considered useful articles. (Masquerade Novelty v. Unique Industries which held that animal nose masks can be copyrighted). But would a banana costume be considered clothing and not copyrightable? We’re going to have to live in limbo because Rasta Imposta and Kmart settled.

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  • IP BLAWG

    Eleven's Frozen Eggos Are Safe

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/24/17

    We celebrate the premier of Season 2 of Netflix’s hit horror series, Stranger Things, with a not-so-spooky cease and desist letter. %CUT% The popularity of Stranger Things seeped into the culture. So much so, that in August 2017, Chicago-based Emporium Arcade Bar opened a pop-up location called “The Upside Down” which was designed to look like the sets from the series. The only problem was that they didn’t get permission from Netflix. Netflix’s in-house lawyers sent a cease and desist letter. Netflix took an even-tempered, but effective, approach. The letter could be summarized but it’s much better to see it in its entirety:

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