The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit analyzed the fair use doctrine of US copyright law in a dispute for recognition of a 2001 French judgment relating to a finding of copyright infringement of certain photographic works featuring the art of Pablo Picasso. The Court’s analysis ultimately resulted in a reversal of the district court’s ruling for the defendants against whom the French judgment was sought. Vincent Sicre de Fontbrune et al; v. Alan Wofsy et al, Case Nos. 19-16913; -17024 (9th Cir. July 13, 2022) (Hurwitz, VanDyke, JJ.; Ericksen, Distr. J.) The Court remanded for further proceedings for an examination of the enforceability of the judgment under California’s Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgment Recognition Act (California Recognition Act).
In 1979, Yves Sicre de Fontbrune acquired the business capital and intellectual property rights to Cashiers d’Art, a complete published catalog of the works of Pablo Picasso. The catalog was created in 1932 by photographer Christian Zervos and featured almost 16,000 photographs of Picasso’s works. In 1991, Alan Wofsy Fine Arts obtained permission from the estate of Pablo Picasso to publish The Picasso Project, a work illustrating and describing Picasso’s works. The Picasso Project contained reproductions of certain photos from Cashiers d’Art.
Sicre de Fontbrune sued Wofsy in France for copyright infringement after The Picasso Project was offered for sale at a book fair in Paris and French police seized two volumes of the work. A trial court in France first found the photographs to be documentary in nature and ineligible for copyright protection. In 2001, however, the French Court of Appeal determined that the photographs at issue were not mere copies of Picasso’s works but added creative elements through deliberate choices of lighting, lens filters and framing. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, found Wofsy “guilty of infringement of copyright” and entered judgment in favor of Sicre de Fontbrune.
A long and complex procedural process followed the Court of Appeal’s ruling, during which appeals and new lawsuits were filed. Wofsy failed to appear on several occasions while also filing a review proceeding in the French courts. Before Wofsy filed the French review proceeding, however, Sicre de Fontbrune brought an action in the Superior Court of California in Alameda County, seeking recognition of the original French judgment. Wofsy removed that action to district court, which dismissed the case with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding the French judgment to be not a penalty but a sum of money cognizable under the California Recognition Act.
On remand, the parties submitted cross motions for summary judgment on eight defenses under the California Recognition Act. The district court granted summary judgment for Wofsy on only one of the defenses, finding that the French judgment was “repugnant to public policy.”
On appeal of the international diversity case, the Ninth Circuit explained that the enforceability of foreign judgments is governed by the law of the state in which enforcement is sought, making the California Recognition [...]