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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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Supreme Court to Consider Whether 17 U.S.C. § 411 Requires Referral to Copyright Office

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to review whether a district court is required to request that the Register of Copyrights 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., Case No. 20-915 (Supr. Ct. June 1, 2021) (certiorari granted). The question presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration.

In the circuit court decision, Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P. (9th Cir. May 29, 2020), the Ninth Circuit held that once a defendant alleges that (1) a plaintiff’s certificate of registration contains inaccurate information, (2) “the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration” and (3) the inaccurate information was included on the application “with knowledge that it was inaccurate,” a district court is required to submit a request to the Register of Copyrights “to advise the court whether the inaccurate information, if known, would have caused [it] to refuse registration.”




PTO Updates Arthrex Guidance

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) updated its June 29, 2021, interim procedure to implement the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in U.S. v. Arthrex, Inc., and specifically updated the Arthrex Q&As section. The PTO’s July 20, 2021, updates address the effect of Arthrex on Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings generally and ongoing proceedings in particular. In Arthrex, the Supreme Court held that appointment of PTAB administrative patent judges violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, and that the proper remedy was to vest the PTO director with discretion to overturn the PTAB’s decisions.

In section A of the Q&As, pertaining to the effect of Arthrex on PTAB proceedings, the PTO explained that the director has the option to sua sponte initiate director review of any final written decision at any point before the filing of a notice of appeal or before the time for filing such a notice has expired. The updated Q&As further explain that a request for director review is not an opportunity for a party to make new arguments or submit new evidence and imposes a 15-page limit on any request. The updated Q&As also clarify the mechanism to request review by the director. The update clarifies that a party cannot request both director review and a panel rehearing after the issuance of a final written decision, and if a party requests both it will be treated as a request for director review. However, if a panel rehearing is granted, a party can request director review of the rehearing panel decision.

In section B of the update, pertaining to the effect of Arthrex on ongoing PTAB proceedings, the PTO clarified the deadline for requesting a rehearing by the director and the circumstances under which the director will consider granting extensions of the rehearing deadlines.

In addition, the PTO added a new section, section D, pertaining to the interim internal process for director review. In section D, the Q&As address:

  1. What happens to a director review request when it is received by the PTO?
  2. What criteria does the advisory committee use when evaluating director review requests?
  3. How will the director identify decisions for sua sponte director review?

Regarding 1), the Q&As explain that requests for director review will be evaluated by an advisory committee established by the director. Regarding 2), the Q&As explain there is no exclusive list of criteria, but list criteria the advisory committee may consider. Regarding 3), the Q&As explain that the PTAB internal management review team will alert the director to decisions that may warrant director review.




Supreme Court to Consider Fraudulent Intent in Copyright Registration

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether a copyright registration accurately reflecting a work can nevertheless be invalidated without fraudulent intent. Unicolors Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz LP, Case No. 20-915 (Supr. Ct. June 1, 2021) (certiorari granted)

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court decision awarding Unicolors a copyright infringement award of $800,000 as well as attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit ruled that although Unicolors improperly registered the copyright (in a fabric design) as part of a “single-unit registration,” the district court was wrong to find intent to defraud the US Copyright Office—a requirement for invalidating a registration.

The issue presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration.




Supreme Court to Consider Whether PTAB Judges Are Unconstitutionally Appointed

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) judges are unconstitutionally appointed. The United States of America v. Arthrex, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1452, -1458, -1459 (Supr. Ct. October 13, 2020) (certiorari granted).

In what quickly turned into a controversial decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held the appointment of administrative patent judges at the PTAB unconstitutional. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc.  The Federal Circuit found that PTAB judges were appointed as if they were “inferior officers” but vested by the PTAB with authority that is reserved for Senate-confirmed “principal officers.” Smith & Nephew, Arthrex and the United States of America petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the decision.

The questions presented are:

  1. Whether, for purposes of the Appointments Clause, US Const. Art. II, § 2, Cl. 2, administrative patent judges of the US Patent and Trademark Office are principal officers who must be appointed by the president with the Senate’s advice and consent, or “inferior officers” whose appointment Congress has permissibly vested in a department head.
  2. If administrative patent judges are principal officers, whether the court of appeals properly cured any Appointments Clause defect in the current statutory scheme prospectively by severing the application of 5 USC 7513(a) to those judges.



Supreme Court: “Booking.com” Can Be Registered as Trademark

By an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court rejected a per se rule by the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that a generic word followed by “.com” is necessarily generic and therefore ineligible for trademark protection. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office et al. v. Booking.com BV, Case No. 19-46 (Supr. Ct. June 30, 2020) (Ginsberg, Justice) (Sotomayor, Justice, concurring) (Breyer, Justice, dissenting). In so doing, the Supreme Court found that the proper test for whether “booking.com” is eligible for trademark protection for travel booking services is whether the public perceives “booking.com” as identifying a single source.

Trademarks identify and distinguish the goods and services of a single party, and the Lanham Act establishes a system of trademark registration. Among other requirements for registration, a trademark must be distinctive, as judged along a spectrum of trademark distinctiveness. Distinctive trademarks, in order of most to least strength, include fanciful or made-up words (e.g., KODAK); arbitrary marks that are existing words that have no connection to the underlying goods or services (e.g., CAMEL cigarettes); and then suggestive marks, which require some mental thought to connect them to an attribute of the products or services (e.g., TIDE laundry detergent). Descriptive words are not inherently distinctive (e.g., BEST BUY), but can still be protectable and registerable upon proof of acquired distinctiveness (i.e., secondary meaning) arising from extensive use and advertising by the trademark owner. At the low end of the spectrum of distinctiveness are generic terms, which merely refer to a category or class of goods or services (e.g., wine or art) and are therefore never protectable or registerable as trademarks.

The PTO refused registration for “Booking.com,” citing policy developed from a 132-year-old Supreme Court case which held that the addition of “Company” to a generic word does not render the resulting name (i.e., Generic Company) distinctive.  See Goodyear’s India Rubber Glove MfgCo. v. Goodyear Rubber Co., 128 U. S. 598 (1888). After the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) affirmed the refusal of registration, Booking.com appealed to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which reversed the refusal of registration, finding that “‘Booking.com’—unlike ‘booking’—is not generic. The district court found that the consuming public primarily understands that BOOKING.COM does not refer to a genus, rather it is descriptive of services involving ‘booking’ available at that domain name.”  The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Virginia federal court (IP Update, Vol. 22, No. 3), and the PTO sought certiorari from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari (IP Update, Vol. 22, No. 11), and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg delivered the opinion of the Court, with which six other justices joined. Justice Sotomayor filed a short concurring opinion, and Justice Breyer dissented. The question under review by the Court was “whether the addition by an online business of a generic top-level domain (.com) to an otherwise generic term can create a protectable trademark.

Both parties in Booking.com agreed that “booking” is generic for the kind of travel [...]

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PTAB Time Bar Application in Instituting IPR Proceedings Nonappealable

Addressing the scope of review of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB’s) application of the one-year time bar of 35 USC § 315(b) in deciding whether to institute an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the Supreme Court of the United States held that application of the time bar by the PTAB is nonappealable. Thryv, Inc. v. Click-to-Call Techs., LP, Case No. 18-916 (Supr. Ct. Apr. 20, 2019) (Ginsburg, Justice) (Gorsuch, Justice, joined in part by Sotomayor, Justice, dissenting). The Court explained that an appeal based on the PTAB’s application of the time bar for filing an IPR petition is prohibited under 35 USC § 314(d), which states that the PTAB’s decision on institution “shall be final and nonappealable.”

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Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Set for Initial Supreme Court Review

In the wake of a 5-4 circuit court split, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to review the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and specifically whether a person who is authorized to access information on a computer for certain purposes violates the CFAA if he accesses the same information for an improper purpose. Van Buren v. United States, Case No. 19-783 (Supr. Ct., Apr. 20, 2020) (certiorari granted).

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Supreme Court: Profit Disgorgement Available Remedy for Trademark Infringement, Willful or Not

Resolving a split among the circuits regarding whether proof of willfulness is necessary for an award of a trademark infringer’s profits, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous decision holding that the plain language of the Lanham Act has never required a showing of willful infringement in order to obtain a profits award in a suit for trademark infringement under §1125(a). Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc., et al. Case No. 18-1233 (Supr. Ct. Apr. 23, 2020) (Gorsuch, Justice) (Alito, Justice, concurring) (Sotomayor, Justice, concurring).

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