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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.




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No Fair Use for Photo Used Without Required Attribution

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that the copyright on a photograph of an entertainment icon was the subject of a valid copyright registration and that use of the photograph in an article missing the author’s required attribution language was not otherwise “fair use.” Philpot v. Independent Journal Review, Case No. 21-2021 (4th Cir. Feb. 6, 2024) (King, Wynn, Rushing, JJ.)

Larry Philpot, a professional concert photographer, photographed Ted Nugent at a concert in July 2013. In August 2013, Philpot registered the photograph with the US Copyright Office and published the photograph on Wiki Commons under a Creative Commons License specifying that anyone could use the photograph for free as long as they provided the following attribution: “Photo Credit: Larry Philpot of www.soundstagephotography.com.”

In 2016, Independent Journal Review (IJR) published an article titled, “Signs Your Daddy Was a Conservative.” One of the “signs” listed in the article was whether “your daddy” was a fan of “The Nuge.” The article used Philpot’s photo in conjunction with this list item. Rather than including the required attribution with Philpot’s photo, IJR included a link to Nugent’s Wikipedia page, which in turn linked to the Wiki Commons site where the photograph was hosted with the proper attribution. IJR generated only $2 to $3 in advertising revenue from the article.

Philpot sued IJR for copyright infringement in May 2020. IJR moved for summary judgment based on its fair use defense and alternatively for a finding that Philpot’s registration was invalid. Philpot moved for summary judgment of valid registration and that IJR’s use did not meet the requirements of fair use. The district court found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding the validity of Philpot’s registration but granted IJR’s motion for summary judgment of fair use. Philpot appealed both findings.

Following the statutory four-prong fair use framework and the Supreme Court 2023 fair use analysis in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts v. Goldsmith, the Fourth Circuit considered whether IJR’s use of the photo was transformative and of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes. A secondary use is transformative when it has a “further purpose or different character” than the original work. The larger the difference is, the more likely a court is to find that the use constitutes “fair use.” The district court found the work transformative because IJR placed the photo in a new context (i.e., a list of “Signs Your Daddy Was a Conservative.”) The Fourth Circuit, however, found that IJR’s use was not transformative because the two uses “shared substantially the same purpose,” which was to depict Ted Nugent. Beyond cropping negative space in the photo, IJR did not alter or add new expression to the photo and did not “add new purpose or meaning.”

In considering whether the work was for a commercial purpose, the Fourth Circuit questioned whether IJR stood to profit from its use of the photo, not whether IJR was successful at that venture. While the article [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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Artificial Inspiration? Style Execution by AI Obviates Human Authorship

The US Copyright Office Review Board rejected a request to register artwork made using an artificial intelligence (AI) painting application, finding that the applicant “exerted insufficient creative control” over the application’s creation of the work. Second Request for Reconsideration for Refusal to Register SURYAST (Copyright Review Board, Dec. 11, 2023) (Wilson, Gen. Counsel; Strong, Associate Reg. of Copyrights; Gray, Asst. Gen. Counsel).

Ankit Sahni filed an application to register a claim for a two-dimensional artwork titled “SURYAST.” The work was generated by inputting a photograph Sahni had taken into an AI painting app called “RAGHAV.” Sahni describes RAGHAV as an “AI-powered tool” that uses machine learning to “generate an image with the same content as a base image, but with the style of a chosen picture.” In this case, Sahni took a photograph of a sunset and applied the style of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night to generate the image at issue:

In the application, Sahni listed himself as the author of “photograph, 2-D artwork” and RAGHAV as the author of “2-D artwork.” Because the application identified an AI app as an author, the Copyright Office registration specialist assigned to the application requested additional information about Sahni’s use of RAGHAV in the creation of the work. After considering the additional information, the Copyright Office refused to register the work because it “lack[ed] the human authorship necessary to support a copyright claim.”

Sahni requested that the Copyright Office reconsider its initial refusal to register the work, arguing that “the human authorship requirement does not and cannot mean a work must be created entirely by a human author.” Sahni noted that in this case, the AI required several human inputs such as selecting and creating the base image, selecting the style image and selecting a variable value that determined the strength of the style transfer. He argued that the decisions he made in generating SURYAST were sufficient to make him the author of the work, which meant that the work was the product of human authorship and therefore eligible for copyright protection. Sahni minimized the role of RAGHAV, calling it an “assistive tool” that merely “mechanically” applies “colors, shapes and styles, as directed.”

The Board disagreed, finding that Sahni’s input to RAGHAV was insufficient to make SURYAST a product of human authorship. The Board reasoned that while Sahni did provide the original image and selected the style and a “variable value determining the amount of style transfer,” Sahni was not actually responsible for “determining how to interpolate the base and style images in accordance with the style transfer value.” Furthermore, Sahni did not control where the stylistic elements would be placed, what elements of the input image would appear in the output or what colors would be applied. The Board concluded [...]

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TikTok Makes It Out of West Texas to Sunny Northern California

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus ordering the transfer of a case, finding that the district court’s denial of the motion to transfer “was so patently erroneous” that the extreme measure was appropriate. In re TikTok, Inc., Case No. 23-50575 (5th Cir. Oct. 31, 2023) (Smith, Southwick, Wilson, JJ.)

In the underlying case, Beijing Meishe Network Technology Co. sued TikTok in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleging infringement, trade secret misappropriation and false advertising. All claims stemmed from the theory that a former Meishe employee disclosed copyrighted source code for video and audio editing software to TikTok, which TikTok then implemented into its app. Meishe and TikTok are Chinese companies, and both the alleged disclosure and TikTok’s alleged code implementation occurred in China, assisted by TikTok engineers in California. TikTok has no engineers in Texas but does maintain a business office there, although not within the Western District.

TikTok moved under 28 U.S.C. § 1404 to transfer the case to the Northern District of California. The district court took 11 months to rule on the motion, and in the meantime the case continued through discovery. After the district court denied the motion, TikTok petitioned the Fifth Circuit for a writ of mandamus.

The sole issue on mandamus was the propriety of the district court’s refusal to transfer venue. To succeed on a writ of mandamus, a petitioner must satisfy the reviewing court regarding the following questions:

  1. Are there other ways to obtain the desired relief?
  2. Is the reviewing court’s right to issue the writ “clear and indisputable”?
  3. Is the writ appropriate, given the circumstances?

The Fifth Circuit focused on the second question, its right to issue the writ. In the Fifth Circuit, the 2008 en banc In re Volkswagen case mandates an eight-factor test that a district court must consider in deciding a § 1404 transfer motion. No one factor is dispositive, and the Fifth Circuit has cautioned against tallying the yes/no results or denying transfer just because most factors are neutral. Unsurprisingly, in the 15 years since Volkswagen, district courts applying these factors have reached inconsistent results. Even the Fifth Circuit has reached “conflicting outcomes” when reviewing these cases. The Fifth Circuit therefore took the opportunity to address each factor.

The Fifth Circuit found that two factors weighed in favor of transfer:

  • The relative ease of access to sources of proof
  • The cost of attendance of willing witnesses

Regarding ease of access to proof, the Fifth Circuit clarified that factfinders analyze “relative ease of access, not absolute ease of access” to documents and other physical evidence. The district court had determined that this factor was neutral, given that most documentation was electronic. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, explaining that while the source code was electronically stored, it was protected by a high level of security clearance. Only certain TikTok employees based in California and China were able to access the code. Using the relative metric, [...]

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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 [...]

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All the Way Up to the Second Circuit, and Back

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a grant of summary judgment made prior to discovery, holding that the district court abused its discretion in finding a draft contract agreement admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 1003 notwithstanding sworn testimony questioning its contents. Eric A. Elliott, aka Fly Havana v. Joseph Anthony Cartagena et al., (2d. Cir. Oct. 17, 2023) (Merriam, Nardini, JJ.)

The dispute in this case centered on whether Eric Elliott was properly credited and compensated for his contribution in writing the song “All the Way Up.” Both Elliott and Joseph Anthony Cartagena (also known as “Fat Joe”) acknowledged that Elliott had signed an agreement regarding the song, but both parties were unable to locate the original agreement. Instead, Cartagena submitted a draft that he claimed was an authentic duplicate. This draft purported to assign all of Elliott’s rights to the song to an entity.

Elliott disputed the authenticity of the draft, claiming that there were numerous additional and different material terms in the agreement he signed. Nonetheless, the district court found the evidence admissible under FRE 1003 and 1004 and entered summary judgment in favor of defendants prior to discovery being conducted in the case. Elliot appealed.

The Second Circuit concluded that the district court abused its discretion and vacated. FRE 1002, also known as the “best evidence rule,” states that “[a]n original writing . . . is required in order to prove its content unless these rules or a federal statute provides otherwise.” If an original document is unavailable, a duplicate may still be admissible under FRE 1003, which states: “A duplicate is admissible to the same extent as the original unless a genuine question is raised about the original’s authenticity or the circumstances make it unfair to admit the duplicate.”

Here, the district court relied on Cartagena’s sworn testimony that he printed the draft at the complex where he lived and brought it with him to a meeting with Elliott. The district court disregarded Elliott’s sworn testimony in response to Cartagena, which suggested that the draft was not identical to the version Elliott signed. While the draft specified that the rights to the song would be assigned to an entity, Elliott averred that the version he signed “seemed to state that [he] was going to be compensated and credited as a writer.” Given this factual dispute, the Second Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the draft as a duplicate under FRE 1003 and granting summary judgment, particularly without the benefit of discovery.

The Second Circuit concluded that there was a genuine factual dispute as to whether Elliott validly assigned all his rights and whether any such purported assignment precluded Elliott’s claims. Given the issues regarding the authenticity of the draft and the genuine dispute of material fact, the Court found summary judgment improper.

However, a duplicate may also be admissible under FRE 1004, which states: “[a]n original is not required and other evidence of the content [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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