Results for "Copyright"
Subscribe to Results for "Copyright"'s Posts

Copyrightability? Think Outside the Checkbox

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s judgment that a customer intake form was not copyrightable because it lacked requisite originality. Ronald Ragan, Jr. v. Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, Inc., Case No. 22-3355 (8th Cir. Feb. 2, 2024) (Grasz, Smith, Gruender, JJ.)

Ronald Ragan claimed that he owned the Guest Sheet, a form he designed to aid car dealerships in their sales processes. The form, registered with the US Copyright Office in 1999, included various questions, prompts, headings, fill-in-the-blank lines and checkboxes. Ragan initially accused an auto dealership of copying and using the Guest Sheet. However, subsequent legal action regarding the dealership’s alleged infringement was dismissed because of jurisdictional issues.

Five years later, Berkshire Hathaway Automotive acquired the dealership. Berkshire Hathaway continued to use the Guest Sheet post-acquisition despite Ragan’s objections. Allegedly, Berkshire Hathaway agreed to modify the form but continued to use it, prompting Ragan to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit. Berkshire Hathaway moved for judgment on the pleadings, contending that the Guest Sheet was not copyrightable. After the district court granted the motion, Ragan appealed.

Ragan argued that the district court erroneously found the Guest Sheet uncopyrightable. The Eighth Circuit disagreed, stating that the Guest Sheet lacked the necessary originality to qualify for copyright protection. Despite Ragan’s contentions regarding the form’s sophistication distilled from years of experience, the Court found it to be a basic customer intake sheet with minimal creativity, consisting of simple questions, prompts and checkboxes and totaling fewer than 100 words. Citing and quoting from the 1991 Supreme Court decision in Feist Publ’ns. v. Rural Tel. Serv., the Eighth Circuit explained that to be copyrightable, a work must possess a minimal degree of originality: “To meet this [originality] requirement, a work must be ‘independently created by the author (as opposed to copied from other works), and . . . possess[] at least some minimal degree of creativity.’”

The Eighth Circuit rejected Ragan’s argument that the selection and arrangement of words on the Guest Sheet constituted sufficient originality, emphasizing the need for creativity beyond mere selection. The Court also noted that the Guest Sheet primarily served as a tool for collecting information rather than conveying substantial content, further diminishing its claim to copyright protection.

Ragan also argued that the Guest Sheet’s copyright registration certificate afforded it a presumption of validity. However, the Eighth Circuit rebuffed this argument noting that Berkshire’s challenge to Guest Sheet’s copyrightability could be based solely on examination of the form itself, notwithstanding the presumption of validity attendant to the registration certificate.

Practice Note: This decision highlights the importance of demonstrating substantial creativity in crafting documents for potential copyright protection and emphasizes that mere selection and arrangement of words may not suffice. Legal proceedings can hinge on the functionality and purpose of a document, as evidenced by the court’s distinction between information-conveying and information-capturing forms in determining copyrightability.




read more

Google It: Federal Copyright Law Preempts California Causes of Action

Addressing a state law-based challenge to the way search results are displayed on copies of websites, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that copyright preemption precluded a website owner from invoking state law to control how the websites are displayed. Best Carpet Values, Inc. v. Google LLC, Case No. 22-15899 (9th Cir. Jan. 11, 2024) (Wallace, Thomas, Forrest, JJ.)

Best Carpet Values filed a class action against Google asserting California state law claims for trespass to chattels, implied-in-law contract and unjust enrichment based on the way Google’s search app displayed their websites on Android phones. If an Android user used the search app to navigate to a website, the app delivered a copy of the website, which was displayed with a frame at the bottom of the page saying, for example, “VIEW 15 RELATED PAGES” and which allowed the user to click a button to expand the frame to display half-page banners advertising related websites. For Best Carpet (the class representative), these displayed results included websites for its direct competitors and even news stories about Best Carpet’s owner. Best Carpet argued that Google thereby occupied valuable space on Best Carpet’s websites, obtaining all the benefits of advertising from its use of that space without paying for such advertising.

Google moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. After the district court denied the motion to dismiss, Google moved to certify the order for interlocutory appeal. The district court granted Google’s motion and certified four questions for interlocutory review that it believed were potentially dispositive. The Ninth Circuit found that only two of the interlocutory questions were dispositive:

  • Whether prior Ninth Circuit authority, Kremen (2003), should be extended to protect as chattel the copies of websites displayed on a user’s screen
  • Whether preemption under copyright law precluded state law from controlling how websites are displayed on a user’s screen.

On the issue of whether a website display can be protected as chattel, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the “chattels” at issue were copies of Best Carpet’s websites. The Ninth Circuit reasoned, however, that they could not serve as the basis for a trespass claim because Best Carpet had no cognizable property interest in the website copies on an app user’s Android phone. The Court reasoned that website copies – unlike a website’s domain name – were not “capable of precise definition” or “capable of exclusive control,” and there was no “legitimate claim to exclusivity” over the website copies (citing Kremen).

As for the copyright preemption issue, the Ninth Circuit considered the two-part test for determining whether the Copyright Act preempted the state law claims. The first prong assesses whether the subject matter of the state law claim falls within the subject matter of the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act. Here, the parties agreed that commercial websites are copyrightable, and after considering the body of precedent interpreting the relevant provisions of the [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Don’t Cut, Paste, Copyright: Bonding over Borrowed Words

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s award of attorneys’ fees and its determination that trivial additions to existing documents were not copyrightable. UIRC-GSA Holdings, LLC v. William Blair & Company, L.L.C., and Michael Kalt, Case Nos. 23-1527; -2566 (7th Cir. Jan. 12, 2024) (Brennan, Flaum, Kirsch. JJ.)

UIRC, a property management company overseeing leases for the US General Services Administration, sought copyright protection for two documents it produced related to a bond offering: a private placement memorandum (PPM) and an indenture of trust. UIRC did not create these documents from scratch but instead borrowed most of the language from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. Nevertheless, UIRC secured copyright registrations by explicitly focusing on the “additional and revised text” it contributed, not the “standard legal language.”

While aiding UIRC in transactions utilizing its copyrighted documents, William Blair concurrently assisted a third party in a similar transaction. During that transaction, William Blair used UIRC’s copyrighted PPM and indenture of trust documents. In response, UIRC filed a copyright infringement suit against William Blair. The district court granted William Blair’s summary judgment motion, finding that UIRC’s documents lacked valid copyright protection because of the trivial nature of the language added to the bond documents, such as “facts, short phrases, and functional elements.” The district court also awarded attorneys’ fees to William Blair under 17 U.S.C. § 505, finding that three of the four factors from the 1994 Supreme Court of the United States decision in Fogerty v. Fantasy favored an award. UIRC appealed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stressing that UIRC was not the original author of the copyrighted works since it did not independently create the PPM and indenture of trust documents. The Court explained that copyright protection requires original works with a minimal degree of creativity, a criterion UIRC failed to meet because its contributions resembled facts, fragmented phrases or language driven by functional considerations.

The Seventh Circuit heavily relied on the Supreme Court’s 1991 Feist Publ’ns v. Rural Tel. Serv. decision, drawing parallels to emphasize that UIRC’s bond documents, being “incredibly similar” to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association documents, lacked the necessary creative expression for copyright protection. The Seventh Circuit deemed trivial additions made by UIRC, which the Court categorized as “facts, short phrases, and functional language” ineligible for copyright protection. The Court highlighted the importance of independent creation using examples where even photographs of familiar characters were copyrightable due to the photographer’s “unique angle, perspective, lighting, and dimension.” In the present case, the Court found that UIRC’s contributions lacked the necessary creative expression. Accordingly, the Court concluded that UIRC’s bond documents were not protected by valid copyrights.

In addressing the attorneys’ fees award to William Blair, the Seventh Circuit applied the Fogerty factors:

  • Frivolousness of the Suit: The Court found that UIRC’s suit lacked merit, emphasizing the frivolousness factor in favor of William Blair.
  • Losing Party’s Motivation: UIRC’s lack of disclosure about the Idaho Housing and Finance Association documents was deemed [...]

    Continue Reading



read more

A Step Forward for Choreography and Copyright

In a rare ruling on infringement of a copyright on choreography, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a copyright infringement action, holding that the district court erred in its application of the substantial similarity standard in terms of the line between animation and choreography, and remanded for further proceedings. Hanagami v. Epic Games, Inc., Case No. 22-55890 (9th Cir. Nov. 1, 2023) (Murguia, C.J.; Paez, Nguyen, JJ.)

Kyle Hanagami, a Los Angeles-based choreographer with a substantial social media following, brought this action against Epic Games, creator of the blockbuster video game Fortnite. Hanagami alleged that Epic infringed his copyrighted choreography by incorporating a portion of his dance work into a virtual animation, known as an “emote,” that players can purchase for video game avatars to perform. Hanagami has created choreography for famous pop stars and globally recognized brands. The five-minute choreographic work at issue in this action was originally published on YouTube in November 2017 and had received almost 36 million views as of Hanagami’s original March 2022 complaint.

In August 2020, Epic released a version of Fortnite that included a new emote called “It’s Complicated.” The allegedly copied choreography consisted of a two-second combination of eight bodily movements set to four beats of movement, which Hanagami alleged “contain[ed] the most recognizable portion” of his choreography. Hanagami brought federal claims alleging direct and contributory infringement of a copyright, as well as a state law unfair competition claim.

The district court granted Epic’s motion to dismiss wherein Epic asserted that Hanagami had not plausibly alleged that the Fortnite emote displayed “substantial similarity” to his choreographic work. Hanagami appealed.

At issue in this appeal was whether the district court had properly applied the Ninth Circuit’s two-part test for substantial similarity in assessing Hanagami’s infringement allegations. The first part, called the “extrinsic test,” focuses only on the protectable elements of the plaintiff’s expression and assesses the objective similarities between the original and the allegedly infringing work. The second part, referred to as the “intrinsic test,” gauges similarity of expression from the perspective of the ordinary reasonable observer and is reserved for the trier of fact. Hence, at the pleadings stage, only the extrinsic test is applied.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in its application of the extrinsic test in two ways. First, the district court incorrectly analyzed Hanagami’s choreography as a series of unprotectable “poses,” rather than as a movement sequence that includes expressive elements such as body position, timing, use of space, energy, pauses and repetition. The Court explained that when a dance work is properly analyzed as a selection and arrangement of movements, Hanagami “plausibly alleged that the creative choices he made in selecting and arranging elements . . . are substantially similar to the choices Epic made in creating the emote.” Second, the district court erred in dismissing Hanagami’s claim because the choreography in the emote was “short” and a “small component” of the original work. The Ninth Circuit [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Tenth Circuit Contributes Clarity to Contributory Liability in Copyright Infringement

Addressing the elements of contributory copyright infringement, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that a plaintiff had plausibly alleged contributory copyright infringement when he alleged that the defendants had “caused, materially contributed to, or authorized the direct infringement” of his copyrights. Greer v. Moon, et al., Case No. 21-4128 (10th Cir. Oct. 16, 2023) (Bachrach, Moritz, Rossman, JJ.)

Joshua Moon owns and operates the controversial website, Kiwi Farms, “a site ‘built to exploit and showcase those Moon and his users have deemed to be eccentric and weird,’ [m]any of [whom] are physically or mentally disabled.” Russell Greer, who suffers from a form of facial paralysis, was targeted by Kiwi Farms users after Greer sued Taylor Swift in 2016. In 2017, Greer wrote a book to “explain his side of things,” titled “Why I Sued Taylor Swift and How I Became Falsely Known as Frivolous, Litigious and Crazy,” which he published and copyrighted. In 2019, Greer registered his copyright for his song, “I Don’t Get You, Taylor Swift.” Greer alleged that Kiwi Farms users infringed both works by creating and uploading unauthorized audio recordings of the book, posting links to a full copy of the book on the Kiwi Farms platform and uploading his song to the Kiwi Farms website.

Pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Greer sent Moon a takedown notice, identifying the infringing materials and the location of those unauthorized copies. In response, Moon published the takedown notice and Greer’s contact information on Kiwi Farms and responded to Greer via an email in which Moon “derid[ed]” Greer and refused to remove the copyrighted materials. Shortly thereafter, Greer sued Moon and Kiwi Farms for contributory copyright infringement, among other things. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and Greer appealed.

The Tenth Circuit explained that there are “three flavors of secondary liability for copyright infringement”:

  1. Vicarious liability, when a secondary infringer has a financial interest in the exploitation of the copyrighted materials and the ability to supervise the direct infringer
  2. The inducement rule, when the secondary infringer distributes a device that is intended to be used for copyright infringement
  3. Contributory liability, when the secondary infringer “causes or materially contributes to” the direct infringer’s activities.

Greer’s claims were based on contributory liability, which occurs when there is direct infringement of a plaintiff’s copyrighted material(s), the defendant had knowledge of the direct infringement and the defendant “intentionally caused, induced, or materially contributed to the direct infringement.”

There was no dispute that Greer’s pro se complaint met the first two prongs of the test. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss because it found that Greer failed to plausibly plead the third element of contributory infringement: “It is not enough for contributory liability for a defendant to have merely permitted the infringing material to remain on the website, without having induced or encouraged the initial infringement” (internal quotations omitted).

The Tenth Circuit dismissed the district court’s [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Seeking Harmony: Supreme Court to Consider Retrospective Relief for Timely Copyright Claims Under Discovery Rule

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether a copyright plaintiff’s timely claim under the discovery rule is subject to retrospective relief for infringement occurring more than three years before the suit was filed. Warner Chappell Music, et al. v. Nealy, Case No. 22-1078 (Supr. Ct., Sept. 29, 2023) (certiorari granted). The specific question presented is as follows:

Whether, under the discovery accrual rule applied by the circuit courts and the Copyright Act’s statute of limitations for civil actions, 17 U. S. C. §507(b), a copyright plaintiff can recover damages for acts that allegedly occurred more than three years before the filing of a lawsuit.

Music Specialist and Sherman Nealy (collectively, Nealy) filed a copyright infringement suit against Warner alleging that Warner was using Nealy’s musical works based on invalid third-party licenses and in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 501. The alleged copyright infringement occurred as early as 10 years before Nealy filed the lawsuit. The district court denied Warner’s motion for summary judgment on statute of limitation grounds, finding that there was a genuine dispute of material fact regarding when Nealy’s claim accrual occurred. In a separate order, the district court certified for interlocutory appeal whether “damages in this copyright action are limited to the three-year lookback period as calculated from the date of the filing of the Complaint pursuant to the Copyright Act and Petrella.” Warner appealed.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court, issuing a decision that where a copyright plaintiff has a timely claim for infringement occurring more than three years before the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff may obtain retrospective relief for that infringement.

The Eleventh Circuit’s approach specifically disagreed with the Second Circuit’s approach to the application of the discovery rule, thereby creating a circuit split.




read more

Standard Practice: The Public Has Right to Copyrighted Material Incorporated Into Law

In a case that attracted a slew of amicus curiae participation and was the most recent in the series of American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) copyright cases, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the noncommercial dissemination of standards, as incorporated by reference into law, constitutes fair use and thus does not support liability for copyright infringement. Am. Soc’y for Testing & Materials v. Public.Resource.Org, Case No. 22-7063 (DC Cir. Sept. 12, 2023) (Henderson, Pillard, Katsas, JJ.)

The ASTM and the other plaintiffs are private organizations that develop and promulgate standards for establishing best practices for their respective industries or products. In 2013, they brought an action for copyright infringement against Public.Resource.Org for posting their copyrighted standards (as they were referenced in agency rulemaking and incorporated into law) on its website, thereby making these materials available to the public at no cost. After the district court initially granted ASTM’s motion for summary judgment of copyright infringement and rejected Public Resource’s fair use defense, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded for further consideration the issue of whether posting the incorporated standards constituted fair use. Subsequently, the district court “found fair use as to the posting of standards incorporated into law and infringement as to the standards not so incorporated.” The plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the DC Circuit analyzed the following fact-intensive fair use factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The DC Circuit concluded that the first three factors strongly favored holding that Public Resource’s posting of the incorporated standards constituted fair use. As to the first factor, the Court explained that in a manner similar to the one discussed by the Supreme Court of the United States in its 2021 Google v. Oracle Am. case, Public Resource’s use was for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. The DC Circuit further found Public Resource’s use transformative in that it served different purposes than ASTM’s use (“provide[ing] the public with a free and comprehensive repository of the law” versus “producing standards reflecting industry or engineering best practices.”)

As to the second factor, the DC Circuit reasoned that the “nature of the copyrighted work” heavily favored fair use because the standards “fall at the factual end of the fact-fiction spectrum” and “have legal force, [such that] they . . . fall ‘at best, at the outer edge of copyright’s protective purposes.’” As to the third factor, the Court found that it strongly supported fair use because the standards had been incorporated and thus had “the force of law.”

With respect to the fourth factor, the DC Circuit recognized that Public Resource’s [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Tragic Ending: Award-Winning AI Artwork Refused Copyright Registration

The US Copyright Office (CO) Review Board rejected a request to register artwork partially generated by artificial intelligence (AI) because the work contains more than a de minimis amount of content generated by AI and the applicant was unwilling to disclaim the AI-generated material. Second Request for Reconsideration for Refusal to Register Théâtre D’opéra Spatial (Copyright Review Board Sept. 5, 2023) (S. Wilson., Gen. Counsel; M. Strong, Associate Reg. of Copyrights; J. Rubel Asst. Gen. Counsel).

In 2022, Jason Allen filed an application to register a copyright for a work named “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial,” reproduced below.

The artwork garnered national attention in 2022 for being the first AI-generated image to win the Colorado State Fair’s annual fine art competition. The examiner assigned to the application requested information about Allen’s use of Midjourney, a text-to-picture AI service, in the creation of the work. Allen explained that he “input numerous revisions and text prompts at least 624 times to arrive at the initial version of the image.” He went on to state that after Midjourney created the initial version of the work, he used Adobe Photoshop to remove flaws and create new visual content and used Gigapixel AI to “upscale” the image, increasing its resolution and size. As a result of these disclosures, the examiner requested that the features of the work generated by Midjourney be excluded from the copyright claim. Allen declined to exclude the AI-generated portions. As a result, the CO refused to register the claim because the deposit for the work did not “fix only [Mr. Allen’s] alleged authorship” but instead included “inextricably merged, inseparable contributions” from both Allen and Midjourney. Allen asked the CO to reconsider the denial.

The CO upheld the denial of registration, finding that the work contained more than a de minimis amount of AI-generated content, which must be disclaimed in a registration application. The CO explained that when analyzing AI-generated material, it must determine when a human user can be considered the “creator” of AI-generated output. If all of a work’s “traditional elements of authorship” were produced by a machine, the work lacks human authorship and the CO will not register it. If, however, a work containing AI-generated material also contains sufficient human authorship to support a claim to copyright, then the CO will register the human’s contributions.

Applying these principles to the work, the CO analyzed the circumstances of its creation, including Allen’s use of an AI tool. Allen argued that his use of Midjourney allowed him to claim authorship of the image generated by the service because he provided “creative input” when he “entered a series of prompts, adjusted the scene, selected portions to focus on, and dictated the tone of the image.” The CO disagreed, finding that these actions do not make Allen the author of the Midjourney-created image because his sole contribution was inputting the text prompt that produced it.

The CO [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Copyright Office Seeks Comments on Artificial Intelligence

The US Copyright Office (CO) issued a notice, seeking comments on copyright law and policy issues raised by artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Artificial Intelligence and Copyright, 88 Fed. Reg. 59942 (Aug. 30, 2023).

The purpose of the notice is to collect factual information and views relevant to the copyright law and policy issues raised by recent advances in generative AI. The CO intends to use this information to advise Congress by providing analyses on the current state of the law, identifying unresolved issues and evaluating potential areas for congressional action. The CO will also use this information to inform its regulatory work and to offer resources to the public, courts and other government entities considering these issues. The questions presented in the notice are grouped into the following categories:

  • General high-level questions
  • AI training, including questions of transparency and accountability
  • Generative AI outputs, including questions of copyrightability, infringement and labeling or identification of such outputs
  • Other issues related to copyrights.

The specific questions can be found in the notice. Given the importance of using shared language when discussing AI, a glossary of terms is also provided, on which commentators can provide feedback. The CO indicated that it does not expect every party choosing to respond to the notice to address every question raised. Instead, the questions are designed to gather views from a broad range of stakeholders.

Written comments are due no later than 11:59 pm (EDT) on October 18, 2023. Written reply comments are due no later than 11:59 pm (EST) on November 15, 2023.




read more

It’s a Taking: Copyright Deposit Requirement Violates Fifth Amendment

Addressing the issue for the first time, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the Copyright Act of 1976’s requirement to deposit two copies of a work with the Library of Congress within three months of the work’s publication was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. Valancourt Books, LLC v. Merrick B. Garland and Shira Perlmutter, Case No. 21-5203 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 29, 2023) (Srinivasan, Henderson, Edwards, JJ.)

Valancourt Books is a small business in Richmond, Virginia, which publishes rare and out-of-print fiction on an on-demand basis (i.e., in response to a specific customer request). Despite never having sought copyright registration for any of its works, Valancourt received a letter in 2018 from the US Copyright Office (CO) demanding a complete copy of 341 books published by Valancourt “for the use or disposition of the Library of Congress.” Failure to comply would subject Valancourt to fines of up to $250 per work plus the total retail price of the copies and an additional $2,500 for repeated failure to comply. Valancourt responded that it could not afford to submit copies of all the requested works, noting that some of the works contained material in the public domain and offering instead to sell copies of the works to the CO at cost. In response, the CO narrowed the list of requested copies to 240 works.

Valancourt sued seeking a declaration that the application of Section 407 of the Copyright Act is unconstitutional under the First and Fifth Amendments and an injunction against its enforcement. The CO offered Valancourt the option to electronically submit the deposits, but Valancourt declined. The parties both moved for summary judgment. After considering whether the CO’s offer to accept electronic copies had mooted the dispute, the district court concluded that the CO’s offer had merely narrowed the dispute to one of electronic deposit copies and granted summary judgment to CO on the constitutional claims. Valancourt appealed.

Valancourt challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Valancourt’s First and Fifth Amendment claims and the district court’s conclusion that the dispute had been limited to one about electronic copies. The DC Circuit agreed, stating that the CO’s “offer did not moot Valancourt’s challenge to the demand for physical copies” because “[a] party’s voluntary cessation of challenged conduct does not moot the challenged [requirement] unless it is ‘absolutely clear’ that the challenged conduct will not recur after the litigation.” Accordingly, the Court considered only the demand for physical (rather than electronic) deposits.

With respect to Valancourt’s constitutional challenges, the DC Circuit concluded that Section 407’s requirement for physical deposit copies violated the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause as there was no benefit received by the copyright owner in response to the deposit: “A demand for personal property would not be a taking . . . if it involved a voluntary exchange for a governmental benefit.” In this case, however, no such benefit existed. Pursuant to the Copyright Act, copyright attaches automatically upon fixation of a [...]

Continue Reading




read more

BLOG EDITORS

STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES