• 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.

    The Tahari fashion brand is famous for high end sleek and trendy clothes.

    Mark Iantosca, a Brooklyn-based photographer, snapped a picture of the digital content creator and stylist, Lin Niller Huynh, wearing a Tahari outfit. Tahari posted the photo on its social media, complementing Lin’s style and crediting Mark as the photographer.

    The problem is that Mark didn’t grant Tahari a license to post the photo. So he sued Tahari for copyright infringement.

    In granting Mark’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, the district court rejected each of Tahari’s defenses. And there were quite a few. The most unusual one was the “Everybody does it defense”. Tahari argued that its use of the photo was “di minimus” and simply reposting a picture in social media is commonplace and trivial. The court held that there’s “nothing ‘trivial’ about a business utilizing a professional photographer’s work to promote its products”.

    There were other unsuccessful defenses too. Tahari challenged whether Mark had registered the copyright before filing suit. The court held that Mark held a valid copyright since he identified the registration number in the complaint. Tahari argued that the infringed photo may not be the one deposited with the Copyright Office in connection with the registration. The court, sua sponte, ordered up a copy of the deposit from the Copyright Office and verified that the photo and the registration matched. Tahari argued that the posts were “fair use”. This one was a hard sell because there was nothing transformative about reposting a photo for commercial purposes. So, the court held that each fair use factor weighed in Mark’s favor and against Tahari. Finally, Tahari argued that it gave Mark credit for the photo. The court held that attribution is not a defenses to copyright infringement.

    The parties were ordered to appear at a conference to discuss damages.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The free exchange of content over social media platforms creates all too many opportunities to post someone else’s works without permission. When the sharing of content is used to promote products or services without permission, infringement can become a costly proposition. Note also that that giving attribution is not a defense to copyright infringement.

  • 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.

    Wholesale copyright infringement cases usually work like this. The owner of the content (doesn’t have to be porn) has a list of IP addresses that show alleged illegal downloads. The content owner files suit naming a number of “John Does” using a boilerplate complaint. Then the lawyers file a motion for expedited discovery to figure out who holds the accounts for the IP addresses. Once they get the names and addresses, they send out demand letters. The amount in the demand is usually low enough to make it more expensive to hire a lawyer then to defend the case. A certain number of low hanging fruit John Does agree to pay the demand. When the plaintiffs reach a saturation point, they dismiss the case.

    Over the years, some courts have denied expedited discovery based on a boilerplate complaint. The courts have held that the IP address is not enough and that the complaints have to contain facts that demonstrate that the subscriber of the IP addresses actually infringed. But, there are other courts who are perfectly fine with these wholesale, bare bones complaints.

    Strike 3 Holdings LLC, an adult movie company that produces films under the names, Blacked, Tushy, and Vixen, was able to overturn two rulings that denied its motions for expedited discovery. Up until these two decisions, Strike 3’s motions were routinely denied making a huge dent in Strike 3’s copyright infringement litigation. That trend may now be reversed.

    In one case, the lower court focused on Strike 3’s robust filing history to determine that Strike 3 didn’t know if any Doe defendant actually committed copyright infringement. So the lower court held that the complaint failed to state a claim for relief. On appeal, the court reversed finding that the complaint alleged enough at the pleading stage to warrant the expedited discovery.

    In the second case, the lower court didn’t hide its disdain for Strike 3 while denying expedited discovery. The court described Strike 3's films as "aberrantly salacious" and assigned "great weight" to the privacy expectations of the John Does in a case involving "particularly prurient pornography". The appellate court reversed finding that the district court focused on the unsupported and negative inferences from Strike 3’s litigation strategy rather than on the legal aspects of stating a claim in the complaint.

    Time will tell if these decisions will result in a surge of John Doe copyright infringement cases.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Let’s focus on what this might mean for any unsuspecting business. Illegal downloads from the Internet are not confined to porn. Mainstream movies fight the battle of illegal downloads too. Then there’s other types of content like photos, graphics and music. Employees have been known to illegally download content during work hours for their personal use as well has on behalf of their employers. The opportunities for doing so have only heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic with more people working remotely. Then there are the opportunists who highjack signals and aggregate them to illegally download content in clusters. There are some measures that a business can take to reduce this exposure. First, create and enforce policies and procedures for employees’ use of company computers. Second, build in systems that block access to websites that are outside the scope of the business. Third, make sure that systems are safe and secure from cyberattacks. And fourth, obtain cyber insurance.

  • 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.

    First up, Justin Goldman sued Breitbart News Network (among others) for using his photo of Tom Brady. The photo went viral. It was posted on Twitter, Reddit and other websites such as Breitbart. All of this viral posting happened without Justin’s permission. Breitbart filed a motion for summary judgment. In its motion, Breitbart argued that embedding an image is not copying the image. The court denied Breitbart’s motion. The court held that embedding an image on a website can be considered copyright infringement. So the matter needs to go to trial.

    Then there’s Stephanie Sinclair’s suit against Ziff Davis LLC and Mashable. Stephanie is a professional photographer. She displays her works on her website and on Instagram. She uploaded one of her photos titled “Child, Bride, Mother/Child Marriage in Guatemala” onto her Instagram account. Mashable, a media and entertainment platform, asked Stephanie for permission to use the photo for an article on female photographers. Stephanie said no. Mashable published the article and used an embedded version of the photo from Stephanie’s Instagram account. The court held that embedding the photo from Instagram was not copyright infringement, in this case. The court relied on Instagram’s Terms of Use in which Stephanie granted Instagram the right to sublicense the use of content that she uploaded onto Instagram. Instagram sublicensed the use of the photo to Mashable for embedded use. The court didn’t directly address whether embedding content would have been infringement without Instagram’s Terms of Use.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Copyright infringement occurs when someone copies the work of another without permission. But is the technological act of embedding content really making a copy? The current version of the Copyright Act was written in the 1970s before the digital revolution. The Act didn’t contemplate emerging technologies and how a simple thing like “copying” may operate differently from the then current technology. Unless and until there’s a better understanding of whether embedding is infringement, look before you embed. Pay attention to whether there’s a license to embed the content.

    On another note, Mashable asked for permission and was turned down. Although Mashable was saved by Instagram’s terms of use, that might not always happen. So don’t go ahead and use someone else’s content after they turn you down. It might be considered willful infringement. And no one wants to go there.

  • 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.

    The skyline photo (see picture) became a popular download. Bell sent out cease and desist letters demanding license fees and even filed about 100 lawsuits for copyright infringement.

    Then Bell came up against Carmen Commercial Real Estate Services. Carmen used the photo in a 2004 blog post. In 2016, Bell contacted Carmen alleging copyright infringement. Carmen refused to pay Bell the $5,000.00 he demanded to settle the matter. So, litigation ensued.

    Carmen had two primary defenses. First, Carmen asserted that Bell didn’t take the photo. Bell said he took the photo in March 2000. But the photo shows green grass, a working fountain and the trees full of leaves. Bell said that he also took a night time photo the same day. Apparently, Indianapolis doesn’t green up until after March; so the daytime photo couldn’t have been taken in March. And the daytime photo was contradicted by the night time photo which showed bare trees. Oops.

    The second defense was that Bell created the photo as part of his duties with this former law firm. So, his photo was a work made for hire and belonged to his employer and not him.
    The jury sided with Carmen and determined that Bell hadn’t proved that he took the photo and owned the copyright. Bell is asking for a new trial. Carmen is seeking reimbursement of its attorney’s fees in the amount of $160,000.00.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. You’ll notice that Bell asked Carmen to pay $5,000.00 to settle the case. Asking for a small amount for settlement is not unusual. The idea is to make it cheaper for the case to go away than to defend it. But, Carmen didn’t look at the cost benefit analysis that way. By investigating the matter and realizing that it had some good defenses, Carmen decided not to back down. This case also demonstrates that if you’re going to say you own a copyrighted work, you had better make sure you really do. This lesson was also discussed in my blog post “Happy Birthday to All of Us” (10/20/2015).

  • 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.

    Douglas Kirkland is a Hollywood photographer with a long career who has photographed celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich.

    In 2017, Kirkland sued Moyal for copyright infringement. Kirkland alleged that Moyal used some of his photographs, including one of Bridget Bardot. Moyal gave the photograph his classic treatment and titled his creation “Star Struck” (See picture). Moyal didn’t have a license from Kirkland to create the work. As the litigation went on, Moyal’s counsel withdrew from the case. Moyal didn’t appear after that and he didn’t retain substitute counsel. A default judgment was entered against him for $204,787.00 in damages along with a permanent injunction.

    Kirkland discovered that Moyal was going to open an exhibit in a gallery in the Beverly Hills Sofitel hotel. The posters for the exhibit on Instagram and Twitter appeared to feature Star Struck. Since a permanent injunction against using Moyal's version of the photo was still in place, Kirkland went to court to enforce the permanent injunction.

    Moyal says that he had no idea an injunction was entered. But that’s not going to help him.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Kirkland’s original photograph was copyrighted in the 1970s. Moyal’s Star Struck was a derivative work of Kirkland’s original photograph. The ability to create derivative works is one of the bundle of rights included in copyright ownership. So, Moyal needed Kirkland’s permission to create the work. Let’s now focus on the injunction. Even though Moyal’s attorney withdraw from the first case, Moyal couldn’t just ignore it. Even if he didn’t know about the injunction, he knew that Kirkland was objecting to his use of the Bridget Bardot photograph. So, the second suit may have more dire consequences if Moyal’s knowledge of the infringement from the prior suit is considered willful infringement. There lies a cautionary tale in two ways. First, don’t use someone else’s content without either seeking permission for the use or getting an opinion of counsel that the use will be non-infringing or fair use. Second, never ignore litigation.

  • 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.

    Greg Young Publishing Inc. (“GYPI”) is the licensing agent for various artists. GYPI sued Zazzle for using images belonging to its clients. Zazzle’s defense was that it relies on the user certification process so it shouldn’t be held liable. GYPI gave Zazzle a catalog of GYPI’s images and Zazzle kept on using the images anyway. Obviously, the user certification process didn’t work. A jury found that Zazzle’s infringement was willful and returned a verdict in favor GYPI in the amount of $460,800. The trial court reversed the jury’s holding that GYPI didn’t present sufficient evidence that Zazzle acted willfully. The damages were reduced to $351,000. The trial court also denied GYPI’s request for attorneys’ fees despite the fact that GYPI was the prevailing party. The trial court believed that Zazzle’s defense was objectively reasonable.

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court on the issue of willfulness. The Ninth Circuit held that a reasonable jury could have found that Zazzle acted recklessly by knowingly relying on obviously insufficient oversight mechanisms. The Ninth Circuit did not reverse the trial court’s denial of attorneys’ fees but reserved the issue to be revisited considering the finding of willfulness.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The U.S. follows the “American Rule” when it comes to fee shifting in a law suit. The aptly named American Rule means that parties to a lawsuit pay their own attorneys’ fees unless a statute or contract provides otherwise. The Copyright Act allows the recovery of attorneys’ fees by the prevailing party. Fee shifting in a copyright infringement case can vastly change the economic dynamic of bringing or defending a suit. Exposure to attorneys’ fees can have a chilling effect on vigorous advocacy.  So, the courts have developed a standard for fee shifting. A claim or defense has to be “objectively reasonable”. In other words, do you have a good faith basis to argue your position? If you don’t and the other side is the prevailing party, you pay their attorneys’ fees. This leaves room for parties to come up with novel and innovative arguments without fearing an attorneys’ fees burden. In Zazzle’s case, just relying on someone else saying, “Yes, own this”, wasn’t objectively reasonable.

  • IP BLAWG

    Halloween Goes Bananas

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/29/19

    Tis the season for banana costumes. 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.

    Rasta Imposta sued Kangaroo for trade dress infringement and unfair competition. Rasta Imposta obtained a preliminary injunction. Kangaroo filed an interlocutory appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Kangaroo argued that Rasta Imposta’s copyright was invalid because the costume was a useful article and not eligible for copyright protection. But a useful article can have design features that are eligible for copyright. The design element has to be identified and imagined apart from the useful article so it would qualify as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or when fixed in some other tangible medium. This is called the separatability analysis. So the court asked two questions: (1) Can the artistic feature of the useful article’s design be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article? and (2) Would the feature qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or in some other medium if imagined separately from the useful article? For the first question, the court rejected Kangaroo’s argument that the banana costume is just a depiction of a banana and there’s nothing creative about a banana. The court held that a depiction of fruit can be creative. And there are elements of the costume that can be separated from a banana. So the answer to the first question was “yes”. For the second question, the court rejected Kangaroo’s argument that everyone would need to use those non-utilitarian elements of a banana in a banana costume or as copyright lawyers call it, scenes a faire. In other words, there’s only one way to create a banana costume that looks like a banana. The court held there are different ways to fashion a banana costume and elements stand on their own and apart from the banana itself. In conclusion, the court held: “Because Rasta established a reasonable likelihood that it could prove entitlement to protection for the veritable fruits of its intellectual labor, we will affirm.”

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The Rasta Imposta decision gives us an in depth analysis of what it takes to create protectable elements in a Halloween costume; or any useful article for that matter. If you decide to dress up as a banana this Halloween, Rasta Imposta is ready to fulfill your desire. But, without disparaging the creative efforts of Rasta Imposta, the most popular adult costume this Halloween is Hot Mr. Rogers.

    HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

  • 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.

    This case has boomeranged between the District Court in California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The courts have consistently rejected VidAngel’s defenses and affirmed injunctions against them. Among VidAngel’s defenses were First Amendment free speech and fair use. The District Court called these arguments “poorly developed” and “convoluted”. VidAngel also argued that an obscure 2005 statute called the “Family Home Movie Act” allowed it to edit dirty material from films and then sell the edited versions. The courts rejected this argument. The act permits the development of technology for consumers to skip content once they’ve purchased a film. The District Court has now entered summary judgment in favor of the Hollywood studios against VidAngel on the issue of liability. The case will proceed to the damages phase.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. VidAngel’s sanitized versions of popular films were derivative works. Derivative rights belong solely to the owner of the copyright. Without a license to create, copy and distribute those derivative works, VidAngel’s business model had a shaky foundation. Perceiving and acting on a need is a good business model. Infringing on someone else’s copyright is a bad business model.

  • 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.

    The Supreme Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation v. Wall-Street.com, LLC. The Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiffs must register a work with the Copyright Office before bringing suit. Applying for registration is not enough. In a unanimous ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the Supreme Court, confirmed that “registered” means, well, “registered” and not just to apply for registration. Fourth Estate argued that a plaintiff might lose the right to enforce a copyright while waiting for the Copyright Office to register the work. Justice Ginsberg wrote that this fear is overrated. The Copyright Office’s average processing time is down to seven months and that’s more than enough time to file suit. Justice Ginsberg acknowledged that the administrative wheels of the Copyright Office might be slower than a litigant would like. But that isn’t a problem that the Supreme Court can solve.

    Why You Should Know This. Now there’s no question that a plaintiff must register the infringed upon work with the Copyright Office before filing suit. The problem is that the infringement will continue while the plaintiff is waiting to get a registration certificate. Seven or more months of infringement is a long time to wait for a remedy. The best practice is to register a work as soon as it’s complete and not wait for the work to be infringed upon. The application process is pretty straightforward and the Copyright Office fees are very affordable ($35 to $55 per application). Failing that, the Copyright Office can expedite the process for a filing fee of $800.00 which can shorten the lead time to three weeks. Either way, copyright registration is a “need to have” for copyright owners if they want to protect their valuable works of authorship.

  • 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. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The Copyright Act provides for injunctive relief, actual damages and, if the work was registered before the infringement, statutory damages and attorney’s fees. No question that copyright infringement can take an emotional toll on the owner of a copyright. Rachel tried to stretch the definition of actual damages to cover that emotional toll. But the Copyright Act does not stretch that far.

  • 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. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. A themed party is a popular way to entertain at a child’s birthday party, a corporate event or even a brand awareness meeting. Character themed apparel is even more common. The problem arises when one wants to use protected characters and doesn’t have the permission to do so. CFH’s experience on the trademark infringement count is not typical. Whenever contemplating the use of protected characters for any reason, be sure to get the right permissions. And, always respond to a cease and desist letter.

  • IP BLAWG

    Agents of Copying

    Beverly A. Berneman
    7/10/18

    Great Minds don’t always think alike when it comes to copyright infringement. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that acts as a clearing house for copyright licenses. The licenses are standard forms that parties can use. However, there is no requirement that the parties accept the standard language. Parties can always add or delete anything that would better define their licensor/licensee relationship. In this case, the Creative Commons license was silent on whether the license extended to agents of the licensee. To avoid a problem like this, on the licensor side, it’s best to define authorized uses under the license. On the licensee side, it’s best to make sure that the license extends to employees and agents.

  • 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:

    3/21/17 – The Intrepid Heroes of Copyright, Photographers. VHT, Inc.’s obtained an $8.3 million judgment against Zillow Group, Inc. for using photos without a license. On appeal the judgment was cut almost in half. The court determined that there was insufficient evidence that anyone actually saw the vast majority of the photos. Still, $4.3 million is a lot of money.

    6/27/17 – Horton Hears a Vulcan. The lower court’s decision that fair use permitted a comic mash up between Dr. Seuss like drawings and Star Trek in “Oh the Places You’ll Boldly Go” was reversed on appeal. The appellate court determined that at least three of the four factors of fair use weighed in favor of the Dr. Seuss estate and against the creators of the parody comic book. In other words, parody is not a golden ticket for fair use.

    10/31/17 – Spooky Banana Halloween. After settling with Kmart for allegedly infringing on its banana costume, Rasta Imposta sued Kangaroo Mfg. Inc. for copyright infringement involving the same banana costume. The court granted a preliminary injunction holding that although the costume is a useful article, it does have some elements that give rise to minimal copyright protection. It appears that Rasta Imposta has peeled off another competitor.

  • 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. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. For now, this case is considered an outlier. But since it’s out there, the best practice is to use extreme caution. The web is full of great content, especially photographs. But there’s a line between linking (which is ok) and embedding without permission (which isn’t ok).

  • 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. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. This opinion is a good road map for any pre-litigation due diligence involving software copyright infringement.

  • IP BLAWG

    I’ve Been Framed

    Beverly A. Berneman
    2/14/18

    Website framing can be copyright infringement. “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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Many websites are designed to provide access to another’s website content. In some cases, it can be done without resulting in copyright infringement. For instance, a hyperlink that directs the user to the original website is probably ok. But in this case, Leader’s Institute did more. It programmed its website to incorporate the copyrighted work belonging to its competitor. Leader’s Institute was held to have infringed by an act of public display through an automated process.

  • 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. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Rimini had an uphill battle. It went beyond the scope of a license. And Rimini’s copyright misuse argument was misguided. Classic copyright misuse involves elements of fraud and extortion. Oracle wasn’t doing that. It was only protecting its software in a specific case. That isn’t copyright misuse.

  • IP BLAWG

    No Vicarious Thrills Here

    Beverly A. Berneman
    12/5/17

    Be careful not to control someone else’s infringing activities. 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.

    **WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. ** A party that is one step removed from infringing activity can get caught in the litigation net under two theories of secondary liability. One type is vicarious liability which has two elements: (1) the right and ability to supervise or control the infringing activity; and (2) a direct financial benefit from that activity. The other type is "contributory infringement" in which one induces, causes or materially contributes to copyright infringement. To avoid secondary liability, it’s always best to step away and not enable potential copyright infringement.

  • IP BLAWG

    There is no Shame in That

    Beverly A. Berneman
    11/28/17

    Submitting an idea doesn’t mean you own it. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. When Dan submitted his idea to Banks and her husband, he believed that his idea would belong to him. But, an idea alone is not protectable by copyright. Only the expression of the idea is. This is a prime example of the problem with idea submission cases. When submitting ideas, there’s a Catch 22. It’s best to make sure that proper protections are in place. But anyone in an industry that is prone to idea submissions is reticent about accepting any unsolicited ideas or signing any idea protection documents such as non-disclosure agreements.

  • IP BLAWG

    Spooky Banana Halloween

    Beverly A. Berneman
    10/31/17

    A banana costume could infringe on a banana costume. 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.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Happy Halloween.

  • 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. 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:

    "Danny and Doug,

    My walkie talkie is busted so I had to write this note instead. I heard you launched a Stranger Things pop-up bar at your Logan Square location. Look, I don’t want you to think I’m a total wastoid, and I love how much you guys love the show. (Just wait until you see Season 2!) But unless I’m living in the Upside Down, I don’t think we did a deal with you for this pop-up. You’re obviously creative types, so I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s important to us to have a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.

    We’re not going to go full Dr. Brenner on you, but we ask that you please (1) not extend the pop-up beyond its 6 week run ending in September, and (2) reach out to us for permission if you plan to do something like this again. Let me know as soon as possible that you agree to these requests.

    We love our fans more than anything, but you should know the Demogorgon is not always as forgiving. So please don’t make us call your mom."

    The bar owners cooperated and closed down as planned.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. Owners have a right to shut down infringement of their Intellectual Property. Sending a cease and desist letter to the infringer is a first step. But cease and desist letters come in all shapes and sizes. An aggressive letter may be appropriate for stopping an infringing competitor. But not so much when dealing with a small company who might have infringed unintentionally. Netflix received a lot of good press for its handling of the Stranger Things pop-up bar. It got the point across without hurting the bar’s owners and alienating the fan base.

  • IP BLAWG

    Home Sweet Copyright

    Beverly A. Berneman
    6/13/17

    Copyright only protects the non-standard elements of an architectural plan. Architectural plans, by their nature, incorporate elements that have been in the public domain for centuries, such as doors, windows and types of rooms in a house. Copyright Law calls those standard elements “scènes à faire”. Home developers use a combination of standard elements to create floor plans. Sometimes, the developer comes up with a unique feature. When that happens, the developer has a copyright in the unique feature. The plaintiff in Design Basics LLC v. Lexington Homes, Inc., publishes home floor plans and licenses them on a retail basis. Design Basics sued Lexington Homes for copyright infringement of its floor plans. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in Lexington Homes’ favor. The Court agreed with the District Court that a jury could not find that Lexington Homes’ plans were substantially similar to Design Basics’ plans. The graphic to the left illustrates the point by juxta positioning a Design Basics floor plan with a Lexington Homes floor plan. If you take the scènes à faire out of the equation, Design Basics seems to have very little protectable elements. But there’s more. The Court, in dicta, discussed Design Basics' litigation history and used the opportunity to criticize Intellectual Property trolls. As of April 2017, Design Basics had brought over 100 copyright infringement lawsuits. Design Basics trawled the Internet and paid employees to find "infringers". The Court expressed distaste for this type of wholesale litigation. The Court reproached plaintiffs, i.e. Intellectual Property trolls, who misuse the legal system by filing dubious lawsuits for the purpose of prompting settlements to avoid costly litigation.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. There are two lessons here. First, if you are in the business of producing works that have minimal copyright protection, the chances are that you are going to have little success in bringing infringement suits. Second, the Intellectual Property troll phenomenon is on the radar of many courts. The Design Basics opinion referenced scholarly articles, news media coverage and recent opinions deploring the abuse of the court system by Intellectual Property trolls. The best way to deal with Intellectual Property trolls is to stand up to them. It may be costly but settling with Intellectual Property trolls only encourages them.

  • IP BLAWG

    Spring 2017 Updates

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/28/17

    In case you’re curious about what happened after, here’s an update from a previous post.

    IP Criminal Hall of Fame, Grand Prize Winner, the Prenda Law Firm (January 10, 2017). As you may recall, the Prenda Law Firm, created sham companies that invited illegal downloads of porn. Then they threatened expensive and embarrassing law suits if the infringers didn’t settle. John Steele, one of the masterminds of the disgraced Prenda Law Firm, and his partner, Paul Hansmeier were indicted in January 2017. On March 8, 2017, Steele pleaded guilty to all seven counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Court papers show that Steele and his co-defendant, Paul Hansmeier, made more than $6 million with their scheme. And, by the way, Steele and Hansmeier filmed some of their porn inventory themselves.

  • IP BLAWG

    The Intrepid Heroes of Copyright, Photographers

    Beverly A. Berneman
    3/21/17

    No group of artists suffers copyright infringement more than photographers. Professional and amateur photographers post their photos on the Internet to proudly display their work. Photographers have a hard time reigning in unauthorized uses of their photos. It’s hard to track unauthorized downloads, hard to find the downloaders and the damages are usually not pursuing given the costs of litigation. That’s why VHT, Inc.’s $8.3 million judgment against Zillow Group, Inc. deserves acknowledgement. VHT licenses its photos of properties that are for sale to real estate agents. The real estate agents have a license to post the photos for marketing purposes. Zillow’s infringement resulted from use of the photos outside the scope of the license in two ways. First, it left the photos on its website even after the properties were sold. Second, Zillow posted the photos on its “Diggs” website which provides home design and improvement services.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. A license has scope and parameters. The licensor has a right to limit the uses of a work. Going beyond the scope of the license creates liability for infringement.

  • IP BLAWG

    Hot Topic: Fake News

    Beverly A. Berneman
    12/20/16

    Extra. Extra. Popular art posting website steals an artist’s works and sells it to Hot Topic. Actually that didn’t happen. DeviantArt (“DA”) operates a website that features the works of visual artists. The artist submits a picture or photograph and DA posts it for the entire world to see. Under DA’s terms and conditions, the artist agrees to give DA a world-wide, non-exclusive license to publish, resize, make collages and use the work for DA marketing and promotion. The terms and conditions specifically state that the artist retains the copyright in the work and no one can use it without the artist’s permission. What could go wrong? A DA user discovered that his Adventure Time fan art (see the picture) appeared on a t-shirt sold by Hot Topic. A flurry of anguished and angry social media postings accused DA of selling the art to Hot Topic. DA denied selling the art to Hot Topic. DA pointed to its terms and conditions where it said that no one can download and use the art for commercial purposes without permission from the copyright owner. So the artist will have to follow up directly with Hot Topic.

    WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS. The first lesson is to always read terms and conditions before posting something on or downloading from a website. It may seem like boring reading but it’s never a waste of time to know your rights and liabilities. The second lesson is, even in the world of copyright, you can’t believe everything you see and hear. For instance, a few commentators on the DA/Hot Topic issue asserted that Hot Topic’s use of the fan art was “fair use” because it could be found on the Internet. This is a popular misconception about fair use. If Hot Topic used the fan art without the artist’s permission and for commercial purposes, it was not fair use. Thanks to art student, Tory Lieberman, for the heads up on this topic.