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After Supreme Court Remand, Copyright Infringement Claims Upheld in View of Registrant’s Unknown Inaccuracies

In February 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., that lack of either factual or legal knowledge on the part of a copyright holder can excuse an inaccuracy in the holder’s registration under the Copyright Act’s safe-harbor provision, 17 U.S.C. §411(b)(1), which governs the effect of inaccurate information in a copyright application. In light of this decision, the Supreme Court remanded the copyright dispute between textile design company Unicolors and global fast-fashion retail giant H&M Hennes & Mauritz to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings on the issue of whether Unicolors held a valid copyright in a 2011 textile design asserted in its copyright infringement claim against H&M. On remand, the Ninth Circuit concluded that under the correct standard confirmed by the Supreme Court, Unicolors held a valid copyright registration because the factual inaccuracies in its application were excused by the safe-harbor provision. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the prior jury verdict against H&M for copyright infringement and remanded with respect to the issue of damages only. Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., Case Nos. 18-56253; -56548 (9th Cir. Nov. 10, 2022) (Bea, Bade, McCalla, JJ.)

The Copyright Act safe-harbor provision saves a copyright registration from invalidity when the application contains errors, except when the copyright registrant knowingly transmitted inaccurate material facts to the US Copyright Office. After the Supreme Court made it clear that “[l]ack of knowledge of either fact or law can excuse an inaccuracy in a copyright registration,” the Ninth Circuit was charged with determining whether Unicolors submitted its copyright application with knowledge that the information therein was factually inaccurate and with knowledge that the application failed to comply with the specific governing legal requirements. The Court first analyzed the validity of Unicolors’s asserted copyright registration, then addressed the remaining issues raised by H&M on appeal.

The Ninth Circuit’s first step in the validity assessment was to determine whether Unicolors’s application did, in fact, contain an inaccuracy. As in its prior decision, the Court concluded that the application was inaccurate because Unicolors registered a collection of 31 separate fabric designs as a single-unit publication when those 31 works were not initially published as a singular bundled collection, as required under the Copyright Act.

The second step of the Ninth Circuit’s inquiry looked at whether Unicolors submitted its copyright application knowing that it contained errors. This is where the Court departed from its prior decision and affirmed the district court’s decision regarding the validity of the registration. Specifically, the Court found that the single-unit registration issue was an unsettled question of law at the time of Unicolors’s application, such that Unicolors did not know that it submitted an application containing false information because it lacked the requisite knowledge of inaccuracy and lacked an intent to defraud the Copyright Office. Finding Unicolors’s copyright registration valid, the Court determined that Unicolors could maintain its copyright infringement claim against H&M.

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When Are Compulsory Copyright Licenses Compulsory?

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit partially affirmed a district court’s summary judgment order holding that audiovisual recordings of live concerts do not fall within the scope of the Copyright Act’s compulsory license provision while purchasers of audio-only recordings obtain a compulsory license in the copyright of the work fixed by their predecessors/sellers. ABKCO Music, Inc. et al. v. Sagan et al., Case No. 20-3816 (2d Cir. Oct. 6, 2022) (Jacobs, Wesley, Menashi, JJ.)

In 2002, William Sagan purchased, through Norton, a collection of audio and audiovisual live concert recordings from Bill Graham Archives. All three parties are named defendants in this case. The agreement conveyed all intellectual property that the Archives held (from a transaction with Sagan) and included a disclaimer stating that record company and artist approval was required to exploit the recordings. The defendants’ subsequent purchases of other recordings contained similar limited assurance language regarding intellectual property rights. In 2006, the defendants made the entire collection publicly available online for a streaming and downloading fee. A year later, the defendants began using a third-party licensing agent to obtain compulsory licenses under 17 USC § 115 and negotiated licenses from plaintiff music publishers in the audio and audiovisual live concert recordings.

Section 115 of the Copyright Act requires persons seeking to make and distribute phonorecords of a previously published musical work to obtain a compulsory license by providing notice to the copyright owner before distribution and paying government-prescribed royalties. (§ 115(a)(1), (b), (c).) The Copyright Act defines phonorecords as “[m]aterial objects in which sounds, other than those accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work, are fixed.” (§ 101.) Section 115’s substantive requirements for duplications of audio/sound recordings fixed by another include requirements that the sound be fixed lawfully, and that duplication be authorized by the copyright owner. (§ 115(a)(1).)

In 2015, the music publishers sued defendants for copyright infringement of 197 musical works posted online without valid compulsory licenses. The music publishers alleged that the defendants did not obtain compulsory licenses for audiovisual works as required by § 115 and that the defendants failed to comply with § 115 substantive compulsory licensing requirements for audio-only works. Defendants argued implied license and equitable estoppel as affirmative defenses. The publishers sought damages and a permanent injunction pursuant to the Copyright Act.

The district court, on summary judgment, ruled that the defendants had no valid license authorizing the reproduction and distribution of the musical works in either audio or audiovisual format, that the defendants had neither an implied license nor any basis for estoppel, and that Sagan (a principal in several of the defendant streaming services) was liable for direct infringement. The district court denied the publishers’ request for an injunction but granted the publishers an award of attorneys’ fees. The defendants appealed from the summary judgment order and the order granting fees and costs. The plaintiffs cross-appealed denial of an injunction.

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the defendants infringed each musical work [...]

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Don’t Throw in the Towel: Retroactive Copyright Protects Fight Live Stream

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment of noninfringement in a copyright dispute, finding that the transfer of ownership prior to the display of the copyrighted work conferred standing to sue for any alleged infringement. Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Griffith, Case No. 21-6088 (6th Cir. Sept. 21, 2022) (Clay, Rogers, Stranch, JJ.)

On August 26, 2017, world-famous boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and famous mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor engaged in what became one of the most legendary fights of all time (Fight). Showtime produced the Fight, charging a $99.99 personal use license and more expensive commercial streaming licenses for public viewing in a commercial setting. Two months prior to the event, on June 20, 2017, Showtime entered into a distribution agreement with Mayweather Promotions granting an exclusive license “to exhibit and distribute, and authorize the exhibition and distribution” of the Fight in a defined territory via the internet. On August 1, 2017, Mayweather in turn entered into a Commercial Licensing Agreement with Joe Hand Promotions (JHP), a smaller distributor. The agreement granted “the sole and exclusive third party license … to distribute … and authorize the public exhibition of the [Fight]” in a designated area. JHP then promoted the event and sold commercial licenses authorizing live broadcast at bars and restaurants.

There was no copyright registration at the time the Fight aired. However, the Copyright Act allows registration of live events within three months, and Showtime applied for a copyright within two months. On November 21, 2017, Showtime signed a Copyright Agreement with JHP, granting JHP “the exclusive right to distribute and publicly perform the [Fight] live on August 26, 2017,” “the exclusive right … to take enforcement actions,” and “the right and standing, as exclusive assignee, to assert independent claims, solely in the name of [JHP], for copyright infringement.” Mayweather Promotions, although a nonparty, also signed.

JHP then sued several restaurants, including Griffith, which livestreamed the Fight in a public setting without paying the commercial license fee. Griffith had paid for a personal use license, but then used an HDMI cable to connect a personal device to a TV and broadcast the live show in the restaurant. Griffith also promoted the Fight on the restaurant’s Facebook page and charged a $6 entry fee for patrons to watch the Fight. Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted Griffith’s motion, finding no evidence of copyright ownership on the day of the Fight. The court found that because the Copyright Agreement granted rights retroactively, JHP was granted a mere right to sue, which was insufficient for ownership. JHP appealed.

Griffith argued on appeal that because there was no copyright registration at the time of the event, any exclusive rights granted by the Copyright Agreement were illusory and insufficient to establish ownership. In response, JHP argued that Showtime intended such retroactive grant of rights, as evidenced by the Commercial Licensing Agreement with Mayweather Promotions. The Sixth Circuit agreed with [...]

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Ninth Circuit Provides Clarity on the Scope of Receiverships

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed an order denying the defendants’ motion to discharge a receiver who had been appointed to aid in the execution of a judgment for violations of the Copyright Act. WB Music Corp et al. v. Royce International Broadcasting Corp., Case No. 21-55264 (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 2022) (Tashima, Watford, Friedland, JJ.)

The receivership in this appeal arises from litigation that commenced in 2016 in the US District Court for the Central District of California by a cohort of music publishers for broadcasting the plaintiffs’ music on radio networks in violation of the Copyright Act. In 2017, the district court found the defendants jointly and severally liable for copyright infringement.

A jury awarded the plaintiffs statutory damages totaling $330,000 and the district court entered a judgment in that amount. The defendants continuously refused to satisfy the judgment, and after much litigation, the court entered an amended judgment for an additional $1.25 million and attorneys’ fees of more than $900,000.

The defendants’ only assets were their Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses. The district court ultimately appointed a receiver who was entrusted with “the power and authority to take charge of and manage [the defendants’] [r]adio stations’ assets, businesses, and affairs,” as well as the ability to solicit offers for the sale of the stations. The court’s order also provided that the receiver would incur a monthly fee and a commission on the sale of any of the radio stations.

The defendants moved ex parte for an order to compel the plaintiffs to accept payment of the amended judgment—asserting that they were prepared to wire funds in the amount sufficient to cover the amended judgment and post-judgment interest—but refused to agree to pay costs incurred by the plaintiffs’ post-judgment proceedings. Per the district court’s order, the defendants were to deposit with the court funds sufficient to satisfy the amended judgment. The order further provided that the receivership would not terminate unless the defendants paid all costs incurred post-judgment. The court entered a second amended judgment approximately four months later, which included additional unpaid sanctions and fees.

The defendants ultimately deposited the required funds with the district court; however, the funds were never released to the plaintiffs. The defendants then filed a motion to terminate the receivership and enjoin the sale of their radio stations on three grounds: (1) the receiver did not take an oath as required under California law; (2) the court lacked the discretion to refuse to terminate the receivership and (3) the court abused its discretion in denying the motion. The motion was opposed by the plaintiffs, who argued that the receivership should not be terminated without ensuring that the receiver was compensated for his services. The receiver opposed the motion, arguing that terminating the position would enable the defendants to “evade a range of liabilities” as there were still large creditors with outstanding judgment liens. The district court denied the defendants’ motion and the defendants appealed.

Agreeing with First Circuit [...]

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Too Quick to Be Lit—Need to Serve That Complaint First

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a default judgment and monetary award in favor of the plaintiff, which was issued in a case where the plaintiff filed (but never served) an amended complaint in a copyright infringement action. The Court concluded that the amended complaint stated a new claim for relief but was not properly served on the defendants in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Anthony Campbell v. Rayshawn Bennett et al., Case No. 21-10978 (11th Cir. Sept. 7, 2022) (Wilson, Branch, Lagoa, JJ.) (Lagoa, J. concurring)

In 2015, Anthony Campbell (professionally known as Rackboy Cam) wrote and recorded a song called “Everything Be Lit,” and registered his copyright with the US Copyright Office in February 2017. Later, in 2018, Rackboy Cam filed suit against June James, Rakim Allen, Rayshawn Bennett (professionally known as YFN Lucci) and Think It’s a Game Records (TIG) for copyright infringement based on Bennett’s 2016 recording and release of a similar song, “Everyday We Lit.” The complaint alleged infringement under 17 U.S.C. §§ 106 and 501 and sought “an award of … actual damages, trebled, as well as all profits Defendants derived from infringing the Plaintiff’s Copyright in the Work,” statutory damages and injunctive relief.

James and Allen failed to respond to the initial complaint and the district court entered a default against them. Rackboy Cam later filed an amended complaint, requesting for the first time an award of actual damages in the form of “all profits Defendants derived, jointly and severally,” from the infringing work. In the amended complaint, Rackboy Cam did not request statutory damages. As before, James and Allen did not respond. Rackboy Cam ultimately settled with the other defendants, and they were dismissed from the action.

The district court ultimately entered a default judgment against James and Allen, awarding almost $1.5 million in profits, jointly and severally, as well as prejudgment interest, a permanent injunction, a perpetual 50% running royalty against future infringement and costs to Rackboy Cam.

James moved the district court to set aside the default, arguing that he was not properly served with the initial complaint—an argument rejected by the district court. The district court concluded that because James defaulted prior to the filing of the amended complaint, and since the amended complaint did “not allege or request new or additional relief from Allen and James,” the plaintiff was not required to have served it on James under Fed. R. Civ. P. 5. Rackboy Cam then moved for entry of a default judgment and requested the above award. The district court granted the motion and James appealed.

The issue before the Eleventh Circuit was whether the amended complaint contained a new claim for relief—joint and several liability for profits—and whether Rackboy Cam was therefore required to serve the amended complaint.

Under Rule 5, service of a pleading filed after the initial complaint is not required on a party who is in default for failing to appear, unless the pleading asserts a [...]

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Implied Copyright License to Photographs of Artist Formerly Known as Prince

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a ruling that a marketer had an implied copyright license to distribute marketing materials containing digital copies of photographs of the late musical artist Prince. Beaulieu v. Stockwell, Case No. 21-3833 (8th Cir. Aug. 30, 2022) (Gruender, Benton, Grasz, JJ.)

Allen Beaulieu was Prince’s personal photographer for five years, taking thousands of photos during multiple world tours. Beaulieu registered a copyright for these photos in 1984. In 2014, Beaulieu decided to publish a book of his photos. He hired (and entered into contracts with) Thomas Crouse to write and publish the book and Clint Stockwell to assist in scanning and storing digital copies of the photos. There was significant interest in the book after Prince’s death in 2016. In May 2016, Beaulieu gave Stockwell an unknown number of uncatalogued photos to be digitized. At about the same time, Stockwell sent a press packet containing a digital photo slideshow and press release to potential investors, including Charles Sanvik.

The collaboration with Stockwell and the others eventually fell apart, and Beaulieu demanded his photos back. Beaulieu’s lawyer retrieved some of the photos from Stockwell’s home, but Beaulieu did not make an inventory of the photos that were returned. Beaulieu sued Stockwell, Crouse and Sanvik for copyright infringement (among various other property torts). The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims and found that Stockwell had an implied license to create and distribute the press release containing Beaulieu’s photos. Beaulieu appealed.

Addressing Beaulieu’s copyright claim, the Eighth Circuit focused on the district court’s finding of an implied license. An implied license is an affirmative defense to a copyright infringement claim. The Court explained that a nonexclusive implied license may be found where a person requests the creation of a work, the creator makes the particular work and delivers it to the person who requested it, and the licensor intends that the licensee-requestor copy and distribute the work. The Court also explained that such an implied license could be implied from conduct. The Court recounted the details of the contract between Beaulieu and Stockwell, which included provisions permitting the use of the digital photos for “promotional and marketing” purposes. The Court also noted that Beaulieu was informed of the marketing plans and was sent drafts of the marketing emails, including the digital photo slideshow, to which Beaulieu did not object. The Court found that Beaulieu’s receipt of these materials, along with his continuing interactions with the collaborators thereafter, implied his approval of the marketing plan and demonstrated an implied license to the photographs.




Foreign Video-Hosting Website Can’t Escape Long Arm of the Law

Focusing on the first prong of the minimum contacts test (whether the foreign defendant purposefully directed its activities at the United States) the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court holding that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over the operators of a Japanese-language video-hosting website and remanded the case for further analysis under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2), the federal long-arm statute. Will Co. v. Lee, Case No. 21-35617 (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 2022) (Wardlaw, Gould, Bennett, JJ.)

Will is a Japanese adult entertainment producer with more than 50,000 videos registered with the US Copyright Office. Will sells access to its content on its website, where it makes more than $1 million per year from US consumers. Defendants Youhaha Marketing and Promotion (YMP) and Lee own and operate ThisAV.com, a Japanese-language video-hosting website similar to YouTube. ThisAV.com allows users to upload and view videos for free alongside advertisements posted by third-party vendors.

After discovering 13 of its videos on ThisAV.com, Will sent the defendants take-down notices pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). When the defendants failed to honor the takedown notices, Will sued for copyright infringement. The defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction because Lee is a permanent resident of Hong Kong currently residing in Canada, and YMP is registered in Hong Kong (where it operates ThisAV.com). Will countered that the lower court had specific personal jurisdiction over the defendants because their display of the copyrighted videos was sufficiently connected to the United States. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the content on ThisAV.com was not “expressly aimed” at the United States, and that the defendants had not caused “jurisdictionally significant harm,” since only 4.6% of the site’s viewers were from the United States. Will appealed.

The principal issue on appeal was whether the defendants had “purposefully directed” the content of ThisAV.com at the United States under the minimum contacts Calder test, which asks whether the defendant (1) committed an intentional act (2) expressly aimed at the forum state, (3) causing harm that the defendant knows is likely to be suffered in the forum state.

The Ninth Circuit summarily concluded that YMP and Lee had committed intentional acts by operating ThisAV.com and purchasing the domain name and domain privacy services. However, whether Lee and YMP had “expressly aimed” ThisAV.com at the United States was a closer question. The Court noted that “mere passive operation of a website” is insufficient to show express aiming. Instead, the operator must have “appealed to and profited from an audience in that forum.” The Court first determined that the defendants had “profited from” the US market because US consumers viewed advertisements posted on the website more than 1.3 million times, and the defendants were paid by third-party advertisers based on views. The Court further concluded that the defendants had intentionally “appealed to” the US market by enabling the website to be quickly accessible to US consumers with reduced [...]

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Novel Derivative Sovereign Immunity Defense Struck as Forfeited

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court decision implementing a preliminary injunction and striking a new defense first asserted in an amended complaint as untimely and frivolous. ACT, Inc. v. Worldwide Interactive Network, Inc., Case Nos. 21-5889; -5907; -6155 (6th Cir. Aug. 23, 2022) (White, Bush, Reader, JJ.)

ACT publishes WorkKeys, a product designed to assess job performance skills. Three of the product’s assessments (Applied Mathematics, Locating Information and Reading for Information) were at issue in this case, and all included various “Skill Definitions” that describe the skills tested by the assessments. ACT and Worldwide Interactive Network (WIN) worked together from 1997 to 2011. During that time, WIN had the authority to develop and sell WorkKeys. After the business relationship ended, WIN began developing and promoting its own assessment tests.

In 2018, competing bids between ACT and WIN to provide educational material to the state of South Carolina showed that WIN’s “Learning Objectives” that were virtually indistinguishable from ACT’s Skill Definitions. ACT brought suit against WIN asserting claims, including copyright infringement, based on WIN’s alleged copying of ACT’s Learning Objectives. The district court granted partial summary judgment to ACT in March 2020 with the additional claims to go to trial, but trial was seriously delayed by COVID-19. During this time, WIN revised its Learning Objectives and claimed they no longer infringed. The district court ordered ACT to amend its complaint to include new allegations regarding the revisions. ACT complied. WIN then asserted a new derivative sovereign immunity defense in its amended answer, to which ACT objected. The district court agreed and struck the defense as untimely and frivolous. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in August 2021 barring WIN from distributing the original and revised Learning Objectives and assessments. WIN appealed, contesting the preliminary injunction and the striking of the defense.

After explaining its jurisdiction, the Sixth Circuit examined whether the district court had abused its discretion in imposing an overly broad preliminary injunction. Both the district court and the Sixth Circuit agreed that ACT was likely to succeed on its copyright claim. WIN’s argument on this issue was primarily based on its belief that the Skill Definitions were not creative or original to ACT and therefore were not copyrightable. The Court stated that while ACT’s selection of the skills was likely not copyrightable, the descriptions and arrangement of the skills were likely protectable. The Sixth Circuit also determined that the district court did not erroneously presume irreparable harm because it did not rely on a presumption but independently found irreparable harm. The Sixth Circuit also stated that the district court properly weighed the parties’ competing interests in the preliminary injunction and found minimal legitimate interest for WIN based on WIN’s business model essentially being infringement of ACT’s intellectual property.

The Sixth Circuit then explained why the district court properly struck the derivative sovereign immunity defense. While states generally enjoy sovereign immunity from suit, private contractors can sometimes obtain certain immunity in connection [...]

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DMCA Scienter Requirement Not Satisfied without Evidence of Knowledge of Inducement or Concealment

Interpreting a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b), for the first time, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a summary judgment ruling that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the second scienter requirement of § 1202(b) by not showing that the defendant knew, or had reasonable grounds to know, that its actions would induce, enable, facilitate or conceal a copyright claim. Victor Elias Photography, LLC v. Ice Portal, Inc., Case No. 21-11892 (11th Cir. Aug. 12, 2022) (Newsom, Marcus, JJ; Covington, Distr. J.)

Victor Elias is a professional photographer who takes photographs for hotels and resorts throughout the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Between 2013 and 2017, Elias took pictures for Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Hotel & Resorts. As part of his process, Elias embedded copyright management information (CMI) into the image files.

During this period and into 2018, Starwood and Wyndham contracted with Ice Portal (a division of Shiji at the time of the appeal) to process thousands of images, including 220 images taken by Elias, and make them available to online travel agents. This processing included converting the images to JPEG format, making copies in various industry-standards sizes and optimizing the files for faster display. The processing sometimes resulted in the loss of an image file’s metadata. In 2016, Elias discovered infringing online uses of his images that lacked the embedded CMI. He filed suit against Ice Portal, contending that the stripping of metadata resulted in loss of his embedded CMI, which violated two sections of the DMCA: 17 U.S.C. §§ 1202(a) and 1202(b).

Following discovery, the district found that Elias could not “satisfy the ‘second scienter requirement’ of the statute” and granted Shiji’s motion for summary judgment. Relying on the 2018 Ninth Circuit case Stevens v. Corelogic, the district court found that Elias had not established that Shiji “knew or had reason to know that its action would induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement.” The court determined that Elias failed to demonstrate that the removal of CMI “is the reason, or even the likely reason, for the infringing use of the images,” or that “Shiji was even aware that searching for terms embedded in the extended attributes was a method used by copyright holders to find infringement on the internet.” Elias appealed.

Because this was a novel issue for the Eleventh Circuit, the Court interpreted § 1202(b) as an issue of first impression. After considering the plain terms of the statute and the opinions of sister circuits, the Court agreed with its sister circuits that to satisfy the scienter requirement of §1202(b), a plaintiff “must make an affirmative showing . . . [that] the defendant was aware [of] or had reasonable grounds to be aware of the probable future impact of its actions.”

Elias urged the Eleventh Circuit to adopt a standard that would only require a plaintiff to demonstrate that CMI was knowingly removed without consent and that the defendant either “knows, or has [...]

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Publisher’s Fair Use Defense Dries Up

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a district court’s summary judgment, rejecting an accused publisher’s argument that their use of copyrighted photos embedded in articles was fair use under the Copyright Act. McGucken v. Pub Ocean Ltd., Case No. 21-55854 (9th Cir. Aug. 3, 2022) (Ikuta, Nguyen, Owens, JJ.)

Elliot McGucken captured and edited photographs of an ephemeral lake that formed on the desert floor in Death Valley. He posted his photos to Instagram and licensed them to several websites that ran articles about the lake. Pub Ocean posted an article about the lake with some digression on loosely related topics. It used 12 of McGucken’s photos, among others, without seeking or receiving a license. McGucken filed suit for copyright infringement. The district court sua sponte granted summary judgment for Pub Ocean, concluding that it was entitled to a fair use defense. McGucken appealed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed after applying the four-factor test in determining whether fair use applies:

  1. The purpose and character of the use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Factor 1: The Purpose and Character of the Use

The Ninth Circuit explained that the question under the first factor is whether the infringing work is transformative and whether it is commercial. Higher transformation in new works means the other factors, including commercialism, are less significant. For-profit news articles are generally considered commercial uses. The Court explained that a work conveying factual information does not transform a copyrighted work when it uses a “clear, visual recording” of the infringing work’s subject.

The Ninth Circuit found that Pub Ocean’s article used the photos for the exact purpose for which they were taken—to depict the lake. The Court disagreed that the article was transformative when Pub Ocean merely “recontextualiz[ed] or repackage[ed] [ ] one work into another.” The Court also disagreed with Pub Ocean’s argument that the fair use defense was strengthened by its purpose of news reporting (one example of fair use listed in 17 U.S.C. § 107). The Court explained that the category of news reporting alone is not sufficient to sustain a per se finding of fair use. The Court also noted that Pub Ocean’s minor cropping and arrangement of photos in the article’s text, even if considered marginal transformation, was too weak to favor fair use.

Factor 2: The Nature of the Copyrighted Work

Under the second factor, the question is the extent to which the copyrighted work is creative and whether it is unpublished. The Ninth Circuit found that McGucken’s photos were creative because they were the product of many technical and artistic decisions. The Court also explained that the publication of the photos on Instagram and in articles failed to weigh in favor of fair use. Citing Dr. Seuss, the Court explained that “while [...]

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