Supreme Court Overrules CAFC In Limelight v. Akamai

In September 2012 I wrote a post titled Why Can’t We All Get Along? CAFC Fractures Over Divided Infringement. The post discussed an August 31, 2012 Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) en banc decision in two cases consolidated on appeal, Akamai v. Limelight and McKesson v. Epic Systems (link). As I described in that post, the 11 judges on the CAFC, were unable to agree on whether patent infringement occurs when separate entities perform the steps of a patented method.

Six of the CAFC judges — a bare majority — formulated a new doctrine of “induced infringement”: a party can be liable for inducing infringement if it either (1) induces several parties to jointly carry out the steps necessary for infringement, or (2) performs some of the steps of the claimed method itself and induces a third party to perform the remaining steps claimed. In other words, the CAFC held that all the steps of a claimed method must be performed in order to find induced infringement, but all the steps need not have been performed by a single entity.

The losing parties before the CAFC appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted review of the case, and which had no trouble holding (unanimously) to the contrary. A defendant cannot be held liable for inducing infringement of a patent method claim when no single entity has directly infringed the claim, and direct infringement is not established unless all steps of the claim are performed by a single entity (subject to the “control or direction” exception discussed briefly below). The Court noted that the Federal Circuit’s approach would “deprive [the inducement statute, 35 U.S.C] §271(b) of ascertainable standards,” and would have led to “two parallel bodies of infringement law: one for liability for direct infringement, and one for liability for inducement.” The Court was not persuaded otherwise by the argument that its holding would permit “a would-be infringer to evade liability by dividing performance with another.”

The Supreme Court’s decision was based, in large part, on the CAFC’s 2008 decision in Muniauction, Inc. v. Thomson Corp., where the CAFC held that where different steps of a method claim are performed by different entities, direct infringement requires a defendant to exercise “control or direction” over the steps the defendant itself does not perform. As the Supreme Court pointed out, the CAFC is free to revisit Miniauction in the future, but the Court declined to review it in the current appeal.* Until the CAFC revisits (and reverses or modifies) Miniauction, direct infringement will continue to require that every step of a claimed method be attributable to one actor (or satisfy the “control/direction” test), and no inducement can be found when no direct infringement has been committed. Until then, “divided infringement” will remain a defense to a claim of patent infringement, as well as a potential “design around” strategy for companies that can avoid a single actor performing, directing or controlling all of the steps of a method patent.

*[Note:] In its discussion of  Muniauction the Court suggested the “possibility that the Federal Circuit erred by too narrowly circumscribing the scope of [direct infringement under] § 271(a).”

On November 26, 2013 I wrote a post titled “Oracle v. Google: How Google Could Lose on Appeal” (link). After oral argument before the CAFC a couple of weeks later I wrote a follow-up post, “Oral Argument in Oracle v. Google: A Setback for Google?” (link).

I thought I was being a bit paranoid on Google’s behalf, but I was wrong – if anything, I was being too optimistic. The CAFC reversed California federal district court judge William Alsup, upholding almost every argument made by Oracle.

Interoperatibility Goes To Fair Use, Not Copyrightability

In the “How Google Could Lose” post I noted that Oracle had a good argument that interoperability is properly raised in connection with a copyright fair use defense, not to determine whether the plaintiff’s work is copyright-protected in the first instance.  The CAFC agreed, stating

Whether Google’s software is “interoperable” in some sense with any aspect of the Java platform  … has no bearing on the threshold question of whether Oracle’s software is copyrightable. It is the interoperability and other needs of Oracle—not those of Google—that apply in the copyrightability context, and there is no evidence that when Oracle created the Java API packages at issue it did so to meet compatibility requirements of other pre-existing programs.

Filtration for Interoperatility Should be Performed Ex Ante, Not Ex Post

In “How Google Could Lose” I noted that:

under Altai it is the first programmer’s work (in this case Oracle) that is filtered, not the alleged infringer’s work (in this case Google), and the filtration is performed as of the time the first work is created (ex ante) not as of the date of infringement (ex post).  When Oracle created the Java API it did not do so to meet compatibility requirements of other programs. Thus, copyright protection of the Java API was not invalidated by compatibility requirements at the time it was created.

The CAFC agreed, stating:

[W]e conclude that the district court erred in focusing its interoperability analysis on Google’s desires for its Android software … It is the interoperability and other needs of Oracle—not those of Google—that apply in the copyrightability context, and there is no evidence that when Oracle created the Java API packages at issue it did so to meet compatibility requirements of other pre-existing programs.

Lotus v. Borland Is Not the Law in the Ninth Circuit

In the “How Google Could Lose” post I noted that

“a close reading of Judge Alsup’s decision in Oracle/Google could lead one to conclude that this was the sole basis on which Judge Alsup found the structure of the Java API declaring code to be uncopyrightable, and therefore affirmance or reversal may depend on whether the CAFC concludes that Judge Alsup properly applied Lotus in Oracle/Google. . . . The CAFC could even reject Lotus outright, and hold that a system of commands is not a “method of operation” under §102(b). Both the Third and Tenth Circuits have indicated that the fact that the words of a program are used in the implementation of a process should not affect their copyrightability, and the CAFC could conclude that this is the appropriate approach under Ninth Circuit law.

In fact, this is exactly what the CAFC concluded:

[T]he Ninth Circuit has not adopted the [First Circuit’s] “method of operation” reasoning in Lotus, and we conclude that it is inconsistent with binding precedent. Specifically, we find that Lotus is incompatible with Ninth Circuit case law recognizing that the structure, sequence, and organization of a computer program is eligible for copyright protection where it qualifies as an expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself.

The only consolation that Google can take from this decision is that the court rejected Oracle’s argument that Google’s adoption of the Java declaring code did not qualify for fair use. Instead, the CAFC sent the case back to the federal district court for reconsideration (summary judgment motions and perhaps a trial) on that issue. Or, actually, a retrial, since the first jury trial on fair use resulted in a hung jury. However, as I read the decision, it seems to favor Oracle’s position on fair use, and I predict that Google will be hard pressed to justify its copying of the Java API declaring code based on fair use.

Perhaps the case will settle now, but Larry Ellison is not one to back down when he has the advantage. I suspect there are intellectual property damages experts across America dreaming of the case of a lifetime this weekend.

I gave an extensive presentation on Oracle v. Google at the Boston Bar Association on November 13, 2013. To see the slides, click here.

Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc. (CAFC, May 9, 2014)

Ripoff Report Has a Fight on Its Hands In Massachusetts

Can a state court order assignment of a defamatory posting on Ripoff Report to a prevailing plaintiff?

That may be the central question in Small Justice LLC, et al. v. Xcentric Ventures LLC, pending the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Here are the basic facts.

A Boston attorney* was defamed by a litigation adversary on the Ripoff Report (a website owned by Xcentric Ventures). The former adversary party, Richard Dupont, claimed that the lawyer was a perjurer with “a history of persecuting the elderly, especially, wealthy elderly women.” The lawyer was accused of filing “baseless lawsuits in order to seize assets from clients, from adversaries and even from his own family.” The posting urged readers to contact the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission with similar complaints, and claimed that the attorney had “a history of child abuse, domestic violence and bi-sexuality,” as well as an “addiction to illicit substances.” None of this is true.

*[note] The lawyer is not named in this post, to minimize further negative publicity.

The lawyer brought suit against Dupont in Massachusetts state court, where he obtained a default judgment. However, this did him no good as far as the defamatory post was concerned. Ripoff Report is infamous for refusing to remove third-party postings, and the Communications Decency Act  (“CDA”) (47 USC § 230) renders it almost impervious to suit by victims of third-party defamation, such as the lawyer victimized in this case.

The lawyer, however, attempted a clever work-around to avoid what he knew would be Ripoff Report’s CDA defense. As part of the remedy in state court the judge assigned to an LLC created by the lawyer — Small Justice LLC — the copyright in the defamatory posting. Small Justice, the copyright owner,  then demanded that Ripoff Report take down the copyrighted material. Ripoff Report refused, and Small Justice sued Ripoff Report in federal court in Boston for copyright infringement (and libel, interference with contract, and violations of Massachusetts’ unfair competition statute).

Ripoff Report moved to dismiss (memo in support here), and Judge Denise Casper issued a decision on the motion on March 24, 2014 (Order here).

As the decision implies, however, Ripoff Report may have anticipated Small Justice’s copyright strategy. Ripoff Report’s terms of service required Dupont to check a box before posting his report, granting Ripoff Report an irrevocable license to display the post, as follows:

By posting information or content to any public area of www.RipoffReport.com, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Xcentric an irrevocable, perpetual, fully-paid, worldwide exclusive license to use, copy, perform, display and distribute such information and content and to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such information and content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

Relying on this license, Ripoff Report argued that whatever rights Small Justice acquired from Dupont by reason of the state court transfer of ownership were subject to the license Dupont granted to Ripoff Report.

Judge Casper did not totally buy this argument, at least at the motion to dismiss stage.  Relying on Specht v. Netscape Comm’ns Corp., 306 F.3d 17 (2d Cir. 2002) and Craigslist Inc. v. 3Taps Inc., 942 F. Supp. 2d 962 (N.D. Cal. 2013), Judge Casper held that:

Whether [the quoted paragraph]  . . . was sufficient to transfer the copyrights in the Reports from Dupont to Xcentric depends on whether it was reasonable to expect that Dupont would have understood he was conveying those rights to Xcentric. … the Court cannot resolve the issue of the ownership of the copyrights on the present record. Although the process by which users posted to the Ripoff Report appears to be similar to the … context in Specht, the Court cannot say, on this record now before it, what a reasonably prudent offeree in Dupont’s position would have concluded about license.

Accordingly, the motion to dismiss the copyright claim was denied.

Admittedly, the outcome in this case is offensive.* The fact that a person can be defamed in this manner, and that Ripoff Report can use the CDA and contract law to render itself immune from suit, is appalling, at least on first impression (whether the defamed attorney would want to represent anyone naive enough to believe Dupont’s obviously bogus post might be a question worth asking).

*[note] An editorial in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly opined, “[the lawyer] is unquestionably pushing the envelope, but the Ripoff Report’s response to his libel suit makes clear that it’s time for a fresh approach to the growing problem of gratuitous attacks in online reviews. Casper should reject the defense’s motion to dismiss and allow his suit to go forward.”

Hopefully, Judge Casper’s decision will lead to a settlement in which the offending post is removed. However, Xcentric may feel it needs to litigate this case to conclusion to maintain the integrity of the (thus far successful) legal barrier it has created against liability. If that proves to be the case, the law and the facts in this case seem, unfortunately, to favor Xcentric.

Small Justice LLC, et al. v. Xcentric Ventures LLC, 2014 WL 1214828 (D. Mass. Mar. 24, 2014).

Update: Click here for the court’s 2015 summary judgment decision in this case.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it.  . . . Bleak House, Charles Dickens

We were writing about Lexmark v. Static Control 9 years ago. (2005 article). The case itself dates back to 2002. And, after the Supreme Court decision on March 25, 2014, it is not yet over. Lovers of Bleak House may want to shift their gaze in the direction of this case.

At its outset this case involved allegations of copyright infringement and violation of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. Those issues were resolved by court decisions, but one issue lingered on: whether Static Control could proceed with its false advertising counterclaim against Lexmark under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, even though the parties are not direct competitors.  The Sixth Circuit held it could not, but the Supreme Court reversed, holding that it could. The Court ruled that a plaintiff who alleges injury to a commercial interest in reputation or sales flowing directly from the defendant’s actions in violation of the statute falls within the “zone of interests” Section 43(a) was designed to protect, even if the plaintiff and defendant are not direct competitors.

The short background on this case is as follows. Lexmark , a producer of toner cartridges for its laser printers, developed microchips for it toner cartridges and printers so that Lexmark printers would reject toner cartridges not containing a matching microchip. The goal, of course, was to frustrate remanufacturers of Lexmark printer cartridges, who had created a secondary market for used cartridges. Static Control replicated the cartridge microchips and sold them to the remanufacturers to enable the resale of Lexmark toner cartridges. Lexmark sued Static Control for copyright violations related to its source code in making the duplicate microchips, but Static Control won against that charge, leaving in place Static Control’s counterclaim that Lexmark had engaged in false advertising when it told remanufacturers that using Static Control’s products would constitute intellectual property infringement.*

*[note] This summary is oversimplified.  See the Sixth Circuit’s decision for full details.

The Sixth Circuit held that Static Control could not maintain its false advertising claim since, technically speaking, Static Control and Lexmark are not actual competitors – Static Control sells microchips, while Lexmark sells toner cartridges.

In the view of the Sixth Circuit, this distinction was fatal to Static Control’s false advertising counterclaim. However, the Supreme Court rejected a potpourri of different legal tests applied by the various federal circuit courts (including the Sixth Circuit), concluding that the issue was whether a false advertising plaintiff such as Static Control falls within the class of plaintiffs whom Congress has authorized to sue under the federal false advertsing statute, Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. Using this approach, the Court created a two-part test: (1) whether the claim is within the “zone of interests” protected by the Lanham Act and (2) whether the alleged conduct proximately caused the alleged injury. The Court held that to meet part one of this test a plaintiff must plead “an injury to a commercial interest in reputation or sales.” To meet the second part a plaintiff must plead “economic or reputational injury flowing directly from the deception wrought by the defendant’s advertising” and that the deception causes consumers to withhold business from the plaintiff.

The Court found that Static Control’s allegations satisfied both components of this test. Having liberalized the test for standing in Lanham Act Section 43(a) false advertising cases, the Court sent the case back to the federal district court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, where Static Control will have an opportunity to attempt to prove that it suffered injury proximately caused by Lexmark’s alleged misrepresentations and where the case will resume, perhaps to someday challenge the longevity of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.

Lexmark Int’l v. Static Components, Inc. (U.S. Supreme Court, March 25, 2014)

  • 9th Circuit holds copyright registration of a collective work registers the component works within it. Alaska Stock v. Houghton Mifflin (link)
  • The PTO held its first Public Meeting on the Establishment of a Multistakeholder Forum on Improving the Operation of the Notice and Takedown System Under the DMCA (link)
  • Long-running DMCA copyright suit settles. Viacom v. Youtube (press release) (blog post)
  • Parties settle remaining issues in Prince v. Cariou copyright fair use case (blog post)
  • Columbia Law Prof. Jane Ginsburg’s article on EU linking decision, Hyperlinking and Infringement: The CJEU Decides (sort of) (link)
  • Prof. Eric Goldman’s post on Gardner v. CafePress (copyright/DMCA case; link to case in post) (link)
  • Sup. Ct. Cal., County of San Francisco, holds that Instagram’s unilateral change of terms of service is enforceable (link)
  • Michael Robertson, founder of MP3Tunes, found liable for copyright infringement in SDNY trial (link)

According to my count, I’ve written seven posts on the Viacom v. Youtube DMCA copyright case. The first time I mentioned Youtube and the DMCA was in October 2006, over 7 years ago. Referencing Mark Cuban’s comment that Youtube would be “sued into oblivion” I stated:

Surprisingly few observers have asked the pertinent question here: do the Supreme Court’s 1995 Grokster decision and the DMCA (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protect YouTube from liability for copyright-protected works posted by third parties . . ..?

In fact, Youtube was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion. It was then sued by a group of media companies, resulting in a marathon lawsuit that never went to trial, but yielded two district court decisions and one Second Circuit decision on the issues I identifed in 2006. As I described in a two-part post in December 2013/January 2014, the second appeal to the Second Circuit had been fully briefed and was awaiting oral argument. Now the case has settled, on confidential terms of course. However, demonstrating the extent to which the interests of the media companies and Youtube have converged, the joint press release contained the unusual statement that the “settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together.”

We may never know the terms of the settlement, but rumor has it that the plaintiffs received no money in this settlement. My guess is they recovered a  token amount, if anything. All three decisions favored Youtube, and Viacom’s case had been whittled down to next to nothing, even if it had been able to persuade the Second Circuit to crack the door a bit and remand the case a second time for damages on a limited number of video clips.

However, the settlement leaves some important questions unanswered:

  • Viacom’s argument that web sites don’t have to take any actions to “induce infringement” – that this basis for liability can be found based on the owner’s intent or state of mind alone – remains unresolved. This is the Grokster issue I identified in 2006. While I think Viacom’s argument was weak, it would have been helpful to have the Second Circuit resolve it.
  • Since the Second Circuit’s first ruling in April 2012 the courts have read the decision to reduce protection for web sites. Courts in New York applying the Second Circuit decision have held that a website can lose DMCA protection if it becomes aware of a specific infringement, or if it is aware of facts that would make it “obvious to a reasonable person” that a specific clip is infringing. Because the case has settled, the Second Circuit will have no opportunity to clarify this standard, at least in this case.
  • The Second Circuit will have no opportunity to clarify the  “actual knowledge”/”facts or circumstances” sections of the DMCA. The distinction between these two provisions remains confusing to the lower courts and to lawyers who must advise their clients under this law.
  • The Second Circuit will have no opportunity to clarify its controversial comments (in its first decision) on “willful blindness,” and help the courts reconcile this concept with the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown procedure. As noted above, the settlement leaves in place the Second Circuit’s implication that awareness of specific infringement may result in infringement liability even in the absence of a take-down notice.

It’s likely that other cases presenting these issues will make their way to the Second Circuit (arguably the nation’s most influential copyright court), but it could be years before that happens. The industry could have used additional guidance in the meantime, and one consequence of this settlement is that it will  get it later rather than sooner, if at all.

 

 

According to Massachusetts U.S. District Court Judge O’Toole the defendants in Moving and Storage, Inc. v. Payanatov are in the moving business and operate a web site at MyMovingReviews.com which, they claim, reflects neutral consumer reviews of moving companies.

Not true, assert some of their competitors and the plaintiffs in this case. The plaintiffs allege that MyMovingReviews manipulates the reviews, deleting positive reviews of the plaintiffs and deleting negative reviews of their own company.

Web sites that allow consumer reviews are protected from copyright infringement under the DMCA, and from tort (e.g. defamation) claims under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) assuming, in each instance, that they meet the often strict requirements of the statutes. The defendants claimed the protection of the CDA, and moved to dismiss under that law. Not so, held Judge O’Toole –

The plaintiffs’ claims do not arise from the content of the reviews, whether they be disparaging, laudatory, or neither, but instead, the defendants’ alleged ill-intentioned deletion of positive reviews of the plaintiffs’ moving companies and deletion of negative reviews of their own company, coupled with various representations – that the website offers “accurate” data, that it is “serious about reviews quality,” and that readers “see the most accurate and up to date rating information to base your decision on.” The manner in which the information is presented, or withheld, is the conduct at issue, as well as the allegedly misleading ratings which result from such alleged manipulations. Such conduct provides substantial basis to find that the defendants were developers of the alleged misinformation.

The defendants argued that they were allowed to delete reviews under Section 230(c)(2) of the CDA, which provides that no operator of a website shall be liable for restricting access to material it deems (among other things) objectionable. However, the CDA requires that the website owner show good faith, and the plaintiffs had alleged bad faith.

The court also refused to dismiss a claim of copyright infringement based on the allegation that MyMovingReviews had copied text from a website belonging to one of the plaintiffs.

The court did, however, dismiss claims based on false advertising, unfair competition, tortious interference and trademark infringement. As to the last of these claims, the court rejected an argument in support of trademark infringement based on the controversial (and largely discredited) “initial interest confusion” doctrine, finding that plaintiffs had failed to adequately allege “confusion.”

  • First Circuit holds that failure to register copyrights in underlying musical compositions dooms copyright infringement claims. Alecia v. Machete Music (link)
  • N. Dist. Cal. court holds that websites copy of photo of politician is protected by copyright fair use doctrine. Dhillon v. Does 1-10 (link)
  • The 9th Circuit has declared open season on the petition for rehearing or hear en banc in its decision in Garcia v. Google – anyone can file an amicus brief (link). This case has been the subject of massive criticism by the copyright community, and it seems likely that it is headed for en banc review.
  • Techdirt: Google Points Out That Even the Copyright Office Thinks Judge Kozinski’s ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rule is Wrong. Techdirt sums up recent developments in Garcia v. Google, including the fact that the plaintiff has been unable to obtain a copyright registration (see first bullet above). (link)
  • Hearings of House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on March 13, 2014.  Topic this week was the DMCA (link)
  • Atlantic article, Our Best Weapon Against Revenge Porn: Copyright Law? (link)
  • Columbia Law Professor Jane Ginsburg (daughter of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg), Aereo in International Perspective: Individualized Access and U.S. Treaty Obligations (link)

  • David Nimmer (Nimmer on Copyright) says Second Circuit got it wrong in Aereo case. Responds Aereo: “ouch” (link)
  • The courts are unable to agree on when an idea is “abstract,” and therefore ineligible for patent protection under the non-statutory “abstract idea” test. The Supreme Court will take up this issue again in Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Internationalwhich is scheduled for oral argument on March 31st.  But, briefing is complete and Dennis Crouch summarizes the arguments on Patently-O. (link)
  • D. Mass. judge denied motion to dismiss claim against company hosting third-party web site reviews (mymovingreviews.com) under Communications Decency Act (CDA), on grounds that there is substantial basis to conclude that the defendants (not third parties) were the developers of the information at issue.  Moving and Storage, Inc. v. Panayotov (link)
  • E.D. Mich. judge struggles with copyright and trademark claims against a variety of high profile defendants (Sports Illustrated, Walmart, Getty Images) arising out of 1991 still photo of a moment in a football game between the U. of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes.  (link)
  • Week 7 CopyrightX – The Rights to Reproduce and Modify (link to Lecture 7.1)

 

Prepared by Kim Meyer, my CopyrightX Teaching Fellow for class #6 in this 12 week MOOC.  @Kmeyer2015

Link to slides …..

Boston Bar Association Interview/Profile

by Lee Gesmer on March 6, 2014

The Boston Bar Association has done a nice interview and profile of me on its blog, “Tipping the Scales.”

Lee Gesmer is a founder and partner of Gesmer Updegrove LLP, a Boston-based firm formed in 1986 that focuses on the representation of technology companies and emerging businesses. Lee’s practice focuses on litigation in the areas of business and intellectual property law. He is a former Council member and former Co-Chair of the BBA Intellectual Property Section, as well as the Computer and Internet Law and Business Litigation Committees.

1. What inspired you to take the leap and start your own firm?

My father owned his own business, and I worked for him summers in my teens. He taught me how important it is to work for yourself. He really believed America was the land of opportunity for people willing to take the risk of starting their own businesses. He embedded that idea in me at an impressionable age. When I graduated from law school, my plan was to work for a couple of good firms and get enough experience that I could start my own firm.

Continue reading . . ..

The week ending February 21, 2014 was a light week, so this week’s Update covers the two weeks ending February 28, 2014

  • 9th Circuit holds actress owns copyright in her individual performance, reverses lower court’s denial of preliminary injunction. Garcia v. Google (link). See blog post on this case here.
  • Utah federal district court issues preliminary injunction order against Aereo, limited to Tenth Circuit. Aereo’s first loss in court, although courts in California and the District of Columbia had enjoined FilmOn X, which provides retransmission of over-the-air broadcasting using the same technology. Communityy Television of Utah v. Aereo.
  • Southern District of Florida grants motion to dismiss in case alleging copyright infringement of architectural worksSieger Suarez v Arquitectonica
  • The USPTO has published more material relating to the Green Paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity and Innovation in the Digital Economy (link). A transcript of the December 12, 2013 public hearing is available here.  Post-hearing public comments are available here.
  • The Copyright Office’s announcement requesting comments and announcing a roundtable on the “making available” right for copyright holders has been published in Federal Register (link)
  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota has issued an injunction, under the authority of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), against a defendant that allegedly broke into a company’s computer system and took confidential information. Reliable Property Services v. Capital Growth Partners.
  • The broadcasters have filed their initial Supreme Court brief in American Broadcasting v. Aereo (link)
  • Motion to dismiss action based on a DMCA takedown notice targeting a trademark (as opposed to a copyright, which is the only appropriate subject of a DMCA takedown notice), denied by N.D. Cal. court.  Crossfit v. Alvies (link)
  • Ninth Circuit finds no trademark infringement based on “trademark fair use.” Webceleb v. Proctor & Gamble (link).
  • Billboard reports on “Songwriter Equity Act,” which would update the factors considered by the Copyright Royalty Board when determining compulsory licenses for songwriters, composers and publishers (link)
 Film Actress Uses Copyright in Her Performance to Force Youtube to Take Down a Movie

An old legal saw warns that “hard cases make bad law.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Garcia v. Google may be a good example of this maxim.

The issue facing the Ninth Circuit was whether an actress can claim a copyright interest in her performance in a film and, if so, under the unusual circumstances in this case, whether the actress could use that copyright to compel Google to remove the film from Youtube.

The facts in this case were very hard. The plaintiff, Cindy Garcia (pictured on left) was paid $500 to act in an independent film for a few days. She was told she was acting in an adventure film set in ancient Arabia. However, the film turned out to be an anti-Islamic movie, and her voice was overdubbed so that she appeared to be asking, “is your Mohammed a child molester?” The movie, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” let to a fatwa, and Garcia received death threats.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 9.11.15 PMAfter Youtube (owned by Google) refused Garcia’s request to takedown the film (rejecting multiple DMCA notices from Ms. Garia), she brought suit for copyright infringement, make a novel legal argument. Rather than arguing that the film was a joint work under copyright law (which might have entitled her to a share of profits, but wouldn’t have achieved her goal of forcing Youtube to remove the film), she  argued that she retained a copyright interest in her contribution. Calling this “a rarely litigated question,” Chief Judge Alex Kosinski, writing for a divided 3-judge panel, avoided the question whether Garcia qualified as a joint author of the film (it seems clear that, under Ninth Circuit precedent such as the Aalmuhammed case, she would not). Instead, he wrote that “nothing in the Copyright Act suggests that a copyright interest in a creative contribution to a work simply disappears because the contributor doesn’t qualify as a joint author of the entire work.”

The opinion concludes that Ms. Garcia may claim a copyright interest in “the portion of the film that represents her individual creativity.”

The court rejected Google’s argument that Ms. Garcia’s performance was a work made for hire (she was not an employee), or that she had granted the filmmaker an implied license (her participation had been induced by fraud, precluding that argument). And, Ms. Garcia had never assigned her rights to the filmmaker in a written document.

Lastly, the court found that Ms. Garcia had suffered irreparable harm (“death is an irremediable harm, and bodily injury is not far behind”), and that she had satisfied the causation requirement. The court “rejected Google’s preposterous argument that any harm to Garcia is traceable to her filing of this lawsuit.”

The district court had denied an injunction, which the Ninth Circuit reversed, ordering Youtube to take down all copies of “Innocence of Muslims.”

It’s difficult to predict whether this case will be a significant legal precedent. The idiosyncratic facts were sympathetic to Ms. Garcia, who appears to have been the victim of a fraudulent filmmaker, and who suffered unusual harm as a consequence. However, independent of these facts, the Ninth Circuit has held that an actor or actress owns an independent copyright interest in a film performance, reminding every non-fraudulent film producer to obtain a written copyright assignment from every performer.

Garcia v. Google, Inc. (9th Cir., February 26, 2014)