On the second round of a copyright dispute, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded (again) to the district court to apply the “independent economic value test” handed down by the Court in the first iteration of the dispute to determine what constitutes as “one work” for purposes of calculating statutory damages where a jury finds infringement on multiple works registered in a single copyright application. Amy Lee Sullivan, dba Design King v. Flora Inc., Case No. 15-cv-298 (7th Cir. Mar. 31, 2023) (Flaum, Scudder, Eve, JJ.)
In 2013, graphic design artist Amy Sullivan sued herbal supplemental company Flora for copyright infringement after Flora used Sullivan’s illustrations in a manner exceeding the scope of the parties’ license agreement. The district court instructed the jury that Sullivan could receive separate statutory awards for 33 acts of infringement on 33 individual illustrations, which were the subject of two separate US copyright registrations, as compilations. The jury issued a statutory damages award of $3.6 million. Flora appealed.
In its decision on the first appeal, the Seventh Circuit adopted the independent economic value test to address the standard for determining whether multiple related works of authorship are each entitled to a separate statutory damages award, or if the related works constitute one compilation warranting only a single statutory damages award. Because the record in Sullivan’s case was insufficient to make that determination and assess proper damages, the Seventh Circuit remanded to the district court to determine whether Sullivan’s illustrations had standalone “distinct and discernable value to the copyright holder.”
On remand, the district court found that Flora waived several arguments challenging the independent economic value of certain of Sullivan’s illustrations, and therefore entered the same jury verdict. Flora appealed again.
After a lengthy analysis on the scope of remand, the Seventh Circuit found that the district court violated its mandate on remand because it did not put the independent economic value assessment to a jury, and instead decided the factual issue on the same record the appeals court had previously found insufficient. The Court then moved to its summary judgment analysis and reiterated the independent economic value test for considering whether Sullivan’s 33 illustrations constituted 33 individual works or instead were parts of two compilations. The Court articulated several relevant factors that went into its totality of the circumstances analysis, including whether the copyright holder marketed or distributed the works independently or as a compendium, whether the works were produced together or separately, how the works were registered for copyright protection and, ultimately, whether the market assigned value to the works.
The Seventh Circuit concluded that Flora raised facts and arguments relating to the independent economic value test that were within the scope of remand and not waived. Flora was not prohibited from arguing several primary positions. First, Flora noted that it provided Sullivan with only two invoices for both “illustration collections,” and Sullivan registered the illustrations in two compilation copyrights, [...]