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What a Deal! Car Dealers Retain Control over Their Own Data

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that there is no conflict between an Arizona statute aimed at strengthening privacy protections for consumers whose data is collected by car dealers and the Copyright Act provision that grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” CDK Global LLC v. Mark Brnovich, et al., Case No. 20-16469 (9th Cir. Oct. 25, 2021) (Miller, J.)

Car dealers use specialized dealer management software (DMS), which at its core is a database containing information about a dealer’s customers, vehicles, accounting, parts and services. Some of the data includes personal information, such as social security numbers and credit histories. The data is used for a variety of tasks, from financing to inventory management. Dealers also rely on separate software applications for various aspects of their business, such as marketing and customer relations. For those applications to properly function, they must access the data stored in a dealer’s DMS.

CDK is a technology company that licenses DMS to dealers. In the past, CDK allowed dealers to share access to the DMS with third-party companies that would integrate data from the DMS with other software applications. Recently, however, CDK began to prohibit the practice and instead offered its own data integration services to dealers.

In 2019, the Arizona legislature enacted a statute, known as the Dealer Law, to ensure that dealers retain control over their data. There are two provisions of the Dealer Law central to this case. First, the statute prohibits DMS providers from taking any actions (contractual, technical or otherwise) to prohibit a dealer’s ability to protect, store, copy, share or use the data stored in its DMS. Second, the statute requires DMS providers to adopt and make available a standardized framework for the exchange, integration and sharing of data.

CDK sued the attorney general of Arizona for declaratory and injunctive relief, asserting a range of claims. In one of its claims, CDK argued that the Dealer Law is preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. CDK asserted that the Dealer Law conflicts with the Copyright Act because the Dealer Law grants dealers and their authorized integrators the right to access CDK’s systems and create unlicensed copies of its DMS, its application programming interfaces (APIs) and its data compilations. CDK argued that in all three respects, the statute conflicts with 17 U.S.C. § 106(1), which grants the owner of a copyrighted work the exclusive right “to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies.” The district court dismissed most of the claims but allowed the copyright preemption claims and a few others to proceed. Following a hearing, the district court denied a preliminary injunction. CDK appealed.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that CDK presented no evidence that the Dealer Law would require the embodiments of CDK’s DMS to persist for a period of more than transitory duration. The Court explained that the reproduction right set forth in [...]

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Oh the Horror: No Work for Hire in Friday the 13th Screenplay

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a summary judgment grant, ruling that an author was an independent contractor when writing the screenplay for a horror film and entitled to authorship rights, and therefore entitled to exercise his copyright § 203 termination right. Horror Inc. v. Miller, Case No. 18-3123 (2d Cir. Sept. 30, 2021) (Carney, J.)

Victor Miller is an author who has written numerous novels, screenplays and teleplays. Sean Cunningham is a producer, director and writer of feature films and is the general partner of Manny Company. Miller and Cunningham were close friends who began working together around 1976 and collaborated on five motion pictures in their first five years working together. Miller was a member of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGA) and was a signatory of their Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), which was the collective bargaining agreement at the time.

In 1979, the success of the horror film Halloween inspired Cunningham to produce a horror film. Cunningham reached out to Miller and they orally agreed that Miller would write the screenplay for their upcoming project. The two came to an agreement using the WGA standard form. Miller then began developing the screenplay and the two worked closely together in discussing ideas for the film. Miller picked his working hours but was responsible for completing drafts based on the production schedule of the film. Cunningham had no right to assign additional works to Miller beyond the screenplay.

The dispute concerns whether, for Copyright Act purposes, Miller was an employee or independent contractor of Manny Company, of which Cunningham was the general partner. Cunningham argued that he taught Miller the key elements of a successful horror film, that he gave significant contributions and that he had final authority over what ended up in the screenplay. Miller agreed that Cunningham gave notes but stated that Cunningham never dictated what he wrote. The parties agreed that Cunningham did provide the ideas for making the movie killings “personal,” that the killer remain masked and that they kill a major character early. Miller received “sole ‘written by’ credit” as the screenwriter.

Horror Inc. (successor to Georgetown Horror) financed the project and was given complete control over the screenplay and film. Manny assigned its rights in the film and screenplay to Horror, which registered the copyrights. In the registration, Horror was listed as the film’s work made for hire author with a credit given to Miller for the screenplay. The initial film was a huge hit and has spawned 11 sequels.

In 2016, Miller attempted to reclaim his copyright ownership by invoking his termination rights under 17 U.S.C. § 203 and served notices of termination to Manny and Horror. The two responded by suing Miller and seeking a declaration that the screenplay was a “work for hire,” and therefore Miller could not give a valid termination notice. The district court granted summary judgment to Miller, stating that Miller was the author as he did not prepare the screenplay as [...]

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Copyright Claims Board’s Proposed Rulemaking: How to Initiate and Respond to a Claim

In January 2021, Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act. This legislation incorporates the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2020, which includes revisions to the Copyright Act with the goal of creating a new venue for copyright owners to enforce their rights without having to file an action in federal court. The new venue, called the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), is designed to serve as an alternative forum where parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work.

On September 29, 2021, the US Copyright Office issued proposed rules in the Federal Register to establish the initial stages of a proceeding before the CCB. The proposed rules prescribe how to file a complaint, a process that includes submitting claim and notice forms online and paying a $100 filing fee. The proposed rulemaking notes that the claim form will require less information than what is required under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12, as practice before the CCB will be less complex than practice in federal courts according to the Copyright Office.

After a claim is filed, a copyright claims attorney will review the claim to ensure compliance with applicable regulations. If the claim is approved, the claimant can proceed to serve the claim within 90 days. If the claim is not approved, the claimant has 30 days to file an amended claim. Counterclaims are subject to the same review process. To pass review muster, the claim must “clearly state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” § 224.1.3. Under the proposed rules, a copyright claims attorney must review the claim or counterclaim for unsuitability on the grounds set out in 17 U.S.C. § 1506(f)(3). If the copyright claims attorney concludes that the claim should be dismissed as unsuitable under CASE he or she shall recommend that the CCB dismiss the claim and set forth the basis for that conclusion. The proposed rulemaking notes that the CCB wants to avoid hearing overbroad or clearly implausible claims.

The respondent will have 60 days to opt out after receiving notice of the claim, or it will lose the opportunity to have the dispute decided in a federal court. The proposed rulemaking prescribes that the initial notice form, provided by the CCB, be similar to a summons and would require the claimant to identify the nature (i.e., infringement, noninfringement or misrepresentation) of the claims being asserted. If the respondent does not respond or opt out within 20 days after the claimant files a proof or waiver of service, then the CCB will send a second notice to supplement the initial notice by mail and email. A respondent can opt out online, using a CCB form or by mail.

All comments to the proposed rulemaking must be received no later than October 29, 2021, 11:59 pm EDT.




De Minimis Defense Doesn’t Protect Minimal Use of Concededly Infringing Material

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a copyright case based on a “minimal usage” or de minimis use defense. Richard N. Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC, et al., Case Nos. 19-55882, -56181 (9th Cir. July 26, 2021) (Wardlaw, J.) (Clifton, J., and Choe-Groves, J., concurring).

Richard Bell took a photo of the Indianapolis skyline and published it on various websites. Eleven years later, he registered the photo with the US Copyright Office. Bell later conducted an online reverse image search of his photo to identify potential infringers and subsequently filed more than 100 copyright infringement lawsuits. One of the sites on which Bell found the photo was VisitUSA.com. The image was only available to those who had conducted a reverse image search or knew the precise web address to the photo. Wilmott Storage Services purchased VisitUSA.com in 2012. In 2018, Bell notified Wilmott that it was displaying the photo without his permission. Wilmott removed the photo in response to Bell’s request. In 2019, Wilmott continued to display a copy of the photo, but at a slightly different address than before. Wilmott explained that its webmaster was supposed to remove the photo but instead only changed the file name. Wilmott subsequently removed the photo.

Bell sued Wilmott for copyright infringement in 2018, asserting that Wilmott infringed his right to “display the copyrighted work publicly” by making it accessible to the public on Wilmott’s server. Assuming infringement, Wilmott filed for summary judgment based on the affirmative defenses of de minimis use, fair use and the statute of limitations. The district court granted summary judgment to Wilmott on the de minimis use defense. Although Wilmott conceded that an identical copy of the photo was hosted on its server, the district court found no infringement. Bell appealed.

The Ninth Circuit noted that it had not previously addressed the issue of whether one “publicly displays” a work where it is accessible only to members of the public who either possess the specific pinpoint address or who perform a particular type of online search—here, a reverse image search. Applying Ninth Circuit precedent from Perfect 10, the Court concluded that Wilmott publicly displayed the photo.

The Ninth Circuit also found that there was no place for an inquiry into whether there was de minimis copying because the “degree of copying” was total since the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted photo. The Court explained that it and a majority of other circuits do not view the de minimis doctrine as a defense to infringement but rather as an answer to the inquiry whether an infringing work and copyrighted work are substantially similar so as to make the copying actionable. The Court reiterated that the de minimis defense applies to the amount of copying, not to the extent of the defendant’s use of the infringing work. The Court also explained that the de minimis copying defense is [...]

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Second Circuit: Supreme Court Google Precedent Doesn’t Alter Copyright Law’s Fair Use Analysis

Addressing fair use as an affirmative defense to copyright infringement, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit amended its recent opinion, reversing a district court’s summary judgment in favor of fair use. The Court did not change its original judgment but took the opportunity to address the recent Supreme Court of the United States precedent in Google v. Oracle. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Lynn Goldsmith, Lynn Goldsmith, Ltd., Docket No. 19-2420-cv (2d Cir., Aug. 24, 2021) (Lynch, J.) (Jacobs, J., concurring).

Lynn Goldsmith and Lynn Goldsmith, Ltd. (collectively, LGL) appealed from a district court judgment that granted summary judgment to The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. (AWF) on its complaint for a declaratory judgment of fair use and dismissing defendants-appellants’ counterclaim for copyright infringement. The Second Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

In 1984, LGL’s agency licensed her 1981 photograph of Prince to Vanity Fair for use as an artist reference for creating a rendering of Prince to accompany Vanity Fair‘s profile of the artist. What LGL did not learn until more than 30 years later, shortly after Prince’s untimely death, was that the artist commissioned by Vanity Fair to create the Prince drawing was Andy Warhol and that Warhol had used the photograph to create an additional 15 silkscreen prints and illustrations, known as the Prince Series. In 2017, LGL notified AWF, as the successor to Warhol’s copyright in the Prince Series, of her claims of copyright infringement. AWF responded with a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Prince Series works were non-infringing, or, in the alternative, qualified as fair use of LGL’s photograph. LGL countersued for infringement. Relying on the Second Circuit’s 2013 holding in the copyright case Cariou v. Prince, the district court granted summary judgment to AWF, agreeing with its assertion of fair use and considering the Warhol work to be “transformative” of the original.

LGL’s appeal required the Second Circuit to consider the four fair use factors under §107 of the Copyright Act:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  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.

In its March 2021 opinion, the Second Circuit rejected AWF’s fair use defense, concluding that the Prince Series was not transformative and substantially similar to LGL’s original photograph.

After the Second Circuit’s initial disposition of the appeal, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., which discussed the four fair use factors as applied to a computer programming language and found that Google’s copying of certain Oracle application programming interfaces (APIs) “to create new products . . . [and] expand the use [...]

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Publisher’s Co-Authorship Claim Arises Under Copyright Act, Invoking Exclusive Federal Jurisdiction

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a copyright authorship dispute, finding that the district court had exclusive jurisdiction over the case because a book publisher’s claim of co-authorship arose under the federal Copyright Act, not state contract law. Di Angelo Publ’ns, Inc. v. Kelley, Case No. 20-20523 (5th Cir. Aug. 12, 2021) (Higginbotham, J.)

Makeup artist Jentry Kelley and Di Angelo Publications entered into a publishing contract for Kelley’s cosmetics book. Kelley provided Di Angelo with an initial three-page manuscript, which Di Angelo claimed it then transformed into a book while communicating and collaborating with Kelley. The book listed Kelley only as the holder of the book’s copyright. After an initial 1,000-copy print run, Kelley asked Di Angelo to prepare an updated or revised version of the book for sale. Di Angelo claimed it had prepared the updated work when it discovered that Kelley was attempting to work directly with Di Angelo’s printer to reduce the costs she would incur selling the revised edition, which violated the parties’ contract.

After unsuccessful overtures to the printer, Kelley filed a complaint in Harris County, Texas, asking for rescission of the parties’ contract because Di Angelo intentionally misled her regarding publishing costs and overcharged her for publishing services. Kelley alleged that she was the sole copyright owner and that Di Angelo did not develop or have any intellectual property rights in connection with the book. Di Angelo counterclaimed for breach of contract, among other claims, and sought a declaratory judgment that Kelley failed to substantially perform under the contract. Di Angelo alleged that Kelley had prevented it from selling the updated edition of the book.

Following partial summary judgment in favor of Kelley, including on the declaratory judgment claim, Di Angelo filed suit in the Southern District of Texas. Di Angelo disputed Kelley’s claim to exclusive copyright ownership and asserted a single claim for relief: A declaration that Di Angelo owned the copyright in the two editions of the book, as well as any derivative works, and had rights in their printing and distribution. Additionally,Di Angelo alleged that it acquired copyrights in the books by “writing, editing, planning and taking all photographs and making all illustrations, and planning, designing, and arranging the layout” of the book. Kelley moved to dismiss Di Angelo’s declaratory relief claim, characterizing the suit as an end-run around the Harris County rulings against Di Angelo and arguing that there was no federal jurisdiction because Di Angelo’s claim was premised solely on Kelley’s alleged breach of the contract, which was governed by Texas law. Di Angelo responded that resolution of the authorship dispute required the district court to interpret federal copyright law, including definitional and ownership provisions, which the state court lacked jurisdiction to address. The district court agreed with Kelley on the jurisdictional question and granted the motion to dismiss. Noting that the parties’ contract referred to Kelley as the “author,” the district court found that that Di Angelo’s claim [...]

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IP Implications of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

On December 27, 2020, Congress signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, into law. The omnibus act includes new legislation affecting patent, copyright and trademark law. A brief summary of key provisions is provided below.

Patents – Section 325 Biological Product Patent Transparency

42 USC § 262(k) was amended to require that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide the public with more information about patented biological products. Within six months, the FDA must make the following information available to the public on its Database of Licensed Biological Products or “Purple Book,” and it must update the list every 30 days:

  • A list of each biological product, by nonproprietary name, for which a biologics license is in effect
  • The license date and application number
  • The license and marketing status (as available)
  • Exclusivity periods

The amendment requires that the holders of a license to market a biologic drug now disclose all patents believed to be covering that drug. The new law is designed to prevent errors that could delay biosimilars from coming to the market.

Copyrights – The CASE Act of 2020

The Consolidated Appropriations Act incorporates the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2020, as well as legislation designed to increase criminal penalties for the unauthorized digital streaming of copyright-protected content. The CASE Act includes revisions to the Copyright Act, 17 USC §§ 101 et seq., with the goal of creating a new venue for copyright owners to enforce their rights instead of having to file an action in federal court.

The Copyright Claims Board

The CASE Act established the Copyright Claims Board (a small claims court), which is designed to serve as an alternative forum where parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work. A party may opt out upon being served with a claim, choosing instead to resolve the dispute in federal court. A party to a proceeding before the Board may, but is not required to, be represented by a lawyer. A party may also be represented by a law student who is qualified under applicable law, and who provides such representation on a pro bono basis. The Board consists of three copyright claims officers who may conduct individualized proceedings to resolve disputes and must issue written decisions setting forth their factual findings and legal conclusions.

Procedural Matters

The Board must follow the law in the federal jurisdiction in which the action could have been brought if filed in federal court. Because jurisdictional conflicts may arise where a dispute may have been brought in multiple jurisdictions, the CASE Act provides that the Board may apply the law of the jurisdiction that the Board determines has the most significant ties to the parties and the conduct at issue.

Although formal motion practice is not permitted, discovery is allowed on a limited basis, including requests for documents, written interrogatories and written requests for admission. The Board may consider evidence, documentary and (non-expert) testimony, without the application of formal [...]

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No Remix: Copyright Act Preempts Right of Publicity Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the federal Copyright Act preempts a state right of publicity claim when the latter is merely “a thinly disguised effort to exert control over an unauthorized [use of a copyrighted] work.” Jackson v. Roberts, Case No. 19-480 (2d Cir. Aug. 19, 2020) (Leval, J.).

Both parties in this case are famous hip-hop artists more commonly known by their stage names: the plaintiff, Curtis James Jackson III, is known as 50 Cent, and the defendant, William Leonard Roberts II, is known as Rick Ross. In 2015, Roberts released a free mix tape that included samples from many famous songs, including Jackson’s hit “In Da Club.” The mix tape track at issue was titled “In Da Club (Ft. 50 Cent)” and included Rick Ross rapping over the “In Da Club” instrumentals, a 30-second sample of 50 Cent singing the “In Da Club” refrain, and multiple references to Rick Ross’s upcoming album.

Jackson sued Roberts, claiming that the unauthorized use of his name and voice violated his right of publicity under Connecticut common law. Pursuant to a recording agreement with his former record label, Shady Records/Aftermath Records, Jackson did not own a copyright interest in the “In Da Club” recording and therefore could not sue for copyright infringement. The district court granted Roberts’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Jackson had surrendered his publicity rights via the recording agreement and that the right of publicity claim was preempted. Jackson appealed.

The Second Circuit agreed that federal law preempted the right of publicity claim, but for different reasons than the district court: the Second Circuit found the state claim preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption or, alternatively, statutory preemption. The Court explained that “generally . . . implied preemption precludes the application of state laws to the extent that those laws interfere with or frustrate the functioning of the regime created by the Copyright Act. Statutory preemption preempts state law claims to the extent that they assert rights equivalent to those protected by the Copyright Act, in works of authorship within the subject matter of federal copyright.”

The Second Circuit used a two-part test to determine whether the state law claim was subject to implied preemption, asking (1) whether the state right of publicity claim asserted a sufficiently substantial state interest, distinct from those interests underlying federal copyright law, and (2) whether the state law claim would potentially conflict with rights established by the Copyright Act. Given that Roberts did not use Jackson’s name or persona to falsely imply Jackson’s endorsement of Roberts’ music, nor did Roberts invade Jackson’s privacy or use his persona in a derogatory nature, the Court reasoned that Jackson was not seeking to vindicate any distinct and substantial state interest. Likewise, the Court held that the second element was satisfied because Jackson’s right of publicity suit had the potential to interfere with the copyright holder’s exclusive control of its rights: “Jackson’s attempt to [control the use of the [...]

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Copyright Office, Not Courts, Determines Validity of Registrations Containing Inaccurate Information

With the validity of a copyright registration at issue, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s judgment after a jury trial and award of attorney’s fees in favor of the plaintiff in a copyright infringement action, holding that the district court was required to request the Register of Copyrights to advise whether inaccurate information, if known, would have caused the Register to refuse registration of the plaintiff’s asserted copyright. Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., (9th Cir. May 29, 2020) (Bea, J.).

The appeal to the Ninth Circuit arose from a copyright infringement action brought by Unicolors, a company that creates designs for use on textiles and garments, against the global fast-fashion retail giant, H&M Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). After a jury found substantial similarity between a design created by Unicolors in 2011 and a design printed on a skirt and jacket sold by H&M four years later, the Ninth Circuit was tasked with examining the threshold issue of whether Unicolors actually holds a valid copyright registration for the 2011 design, which is a precondition to bringing its copyright infringement suit.

The garment design that Unicolors claimed to be infringed by H&M is one of 31 separate designs comprising a “single-unit registration.” To register a collection of works as a “single unit” under the Copyright Act, however, the works must have been first sold or offered for sale in “a single unit of publication.” On this point, H&M argued that the collection of works identified in Unicolors’s asserted copyright registration were sold separately instead of together and at the same time, which required the court to find Unicolors’s copyright registration invalid.

In its examination of the “rarely disputed” issue of whether a copyright is properly registered, the Ninth Circuit found the district court’s rationale for denying H&M’s petition to be “flawed.” First, the Court flatly rejected the district court’s requirement that H&M demonstrate that Unicolors intended to defraud the Copyright Office at the time of its application filing, and pointed to the Ninth Circuit’s 2019 ruling in Gold Value Int’l Textile, Inc. v. Sanctuary Clothing, LLC, where it clarified that there is no such intent-to-defraud requirement for copyright registration invalidation (and in doing so, rejected a series of Ninth Circuit cases that imply an opposite conclusion).

Second, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the plain meaning of “single unit,” under the Copyright Act’s provision for the registration of a collection of published works as a single unit, requires that the registrant first published the works in a singular, bundled collection. Therefore, the Court explained that the district court further erred in concluding that Unicolors’s application for copyright registration did not contain inaccuracies despite the inclusion of the company’s own designated “confined designs,” which, according to testimony and evidence in the proceeding, were sold separately and exclusively to individual customers and were not first sold together and at the same time with the rest of the works in the single unit registration.

With this underlying foundation, [...]

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Copyright Damages Limited to Three Years Before Lawsuit Filing

Addressing a myriad of issues relating to copyright law, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the discovery rule applies for statute of limitations purposes in determining when copyright claims accrue, but damages are limited to three years before filing of the lawsuit. Sohm v. Scholastic Inc., Case Nos. 10-2110, -2445 (2d Cir. May 12, 2020) (Sullivan, J.).

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