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Posts in Copyright Litigation

Federal Circuit Will Soon Hear Case that Threatens the Statutory Presumption Afforded Copyright Registration

On January 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) will hear oral argument in SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming, Ltd., a copyright infringement suit with far-reaching consequences for American creativity. SAS is a North Carolina-based software company, well known for its highly successful analytics software. World Programming, Ltd (WPL) is a British software company that, by its own admission, set out to “clone” SAS’s creative and popular software. The litigation that followed has been lengthy and stretched from North Carolina to the U.K. and back. While WPL largely prevailed in its home court, the litigation in North Carolina resulted in a verdict that WPL engaged in fraud and unfair and deceptive trade practices. The litigation in North Carolina did not decide the copyright infringement issues, so SAS was forced to file a separate suit, this time in Texas. But the judge in that case made a critical error, which is now on appeal.

Two Supreme Court IP Cases to Watch in 2022

As of today, the 2022 Supreme Court docket is light on intellectual property cases, with the Court having granted review of only one copyright case. However, one other major case lurks in the background on an issue—patent ineligibility—upon which the Supreme Court has already demonstrated its interest. These two cases are examined in greater detail below.

The Year in Copyright: From Google v. Oracle to the Takings Clause

One of the greatest attributes of copyright law is the never-ending abundance of exciting new developments, including those in Congress, the courts, and at the Copyright Office. On the surface, copyright seems straightforward in that it advances the public good by securing property rights to authors. But underneath this simple veneer lies centuries of debate about how best to balance the rights of authors with the public interest, where each distinct issue presents a veritable rabbit hole of metaphysical distinctions. For the copyright connoisseur, keeping up with the latest events can be an exhausting endeavor, though the thrill of solving new puzzles makes it intellectually rewarding. Thankfully, one need not be a member of the copyright cognoscenti to appreciate the major developments in copyright law this past year. From the Supreme Court’s decision in Google v. Oracle to the implementation of a small copyright claims tribunal to attempts to rein in state infringements, 2021 has certainly provided many wonderful events worth highlighting.

Warhol Foundation Tells SCOTUS Second Circuit’s Fair Use Ruling ‘Threatens a Sea-Change’ in Copyright Law

The Andy Warhol Foundation has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holding  that Andy Warhol’s Prince Series did not constitute fair use of Lynn Goldsmith’s photograph. The Second Circuit held in March that “the district court erred in its assessment and application of the fair-use factors and the works in question do not qualify as fair use.” The Court of Appeals further concluded that the Prince Series works were substantially similar to the Goldsmith Photograph “as a matter of law.” The Supreme Court petition argues that “the Second Circuit’s decision…creates a circuit split and casts a cloud of legal uncertainty over an entire genre of visual art.”

Photographer’s SCOTUS Petition Argues State School Liable Under Takings Clause for Copyright Infringement

On November 15, Houston-area aerial photographer Jim Olive Photography filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up an appeal from the Texas Supreme Court, which had denied Olive’s copyright claims against the University of Houston System on sovereign immunity grounds. In the petition, Olive requests that the Supreme Court simply grant certiorari, vacate the lower decision and remand for reconsideration of the issues in light of the Court’s decision this summer in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, which was issued just a few days after the Texas Supreme Court ruled against Olive.

Transformation or Derivation: Modern Trends in the Fair Use Doctrine from Software to Photography

“Fair Use” is a flexible defense to claims of copyright infringement. It is a doctrine that evolves as technology and the way in which people use copyrighted works advance. As an exception to the general law prohibiting copying others’ works, it permits copying for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as commentary, criticism, teaching, news reporting, scholarship, or research. Naturally, the way courts analyze the “fair use” defense must adapt as technology advances and the way in which creative content is developed evolves. Earlier this year, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a landmark fair use case involving the “copying” of an Application Programming Interface (API).

Cloudflare Tests Limits of Contributory Copyright Infringement

One recurring thorn in the side of copyright owners is Cloudflare, the San Francisco-based web performance, optimization, and security company. Cloudflare offers many services to its customers, including a content delivery network that utilizes hundreds of servers around the world to cache its customers’ content. When an end user requests content from one of Cloudflare’s customers, it is delivered to that user from the cached copy on the nearest Cloudflare server—not the customer’s own web host server. This saves on bandwidth costs, improves security, and decreases page load times. It also raises important questions about Cloudflare’s liability for contributory copyright infringement when it knowingly allows infringing content to remain on its cache servers. Under Ninth Circuit precedent, web hosting services like Cloudflare can be held contributorily liable for assisting in the infringement under the material contribution theory. However, a recent district court decision misconstrued the case law to conclude otherwise in Mon Cheri v. Cloudflare.

Justices Express Frustration Over Question Presented in Unicolors v. H&M, But Lean Toward Preserving Copyright Registrations

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Unicolors v. H&M. The case asks the Court to decide whether the Ninth Circuit properly construed the language of 17 U.S.C. § 411 relating to whether courts must have evidence of intent to defraud before referring copyright registration validity questions to the Copyright Office. While the questioning seemed to favor Unicolors overall, at least one Justice today asked why a change in the question presented at the merits stage of the briefing shouldn’t result in the case being dismissed as having been “improvidently granted.”

SCOTUS Grants Government’s Request to Participate in Case Interpreting PRO IP Act Language on Copyright Invalidation

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted a motion made by the Acting U.S. Solicitor General to participate in oral argument as an amicus in the case of Unicolors v. H&M. The case asks the Court to decide whether the Ninth Circuit properly construed the language of 17 U.S.C. § 411 relating to whether courts must have evidence of intent to defraud before referring copyright registration validity questions to the Copyright Office. Oral argument is set for November 7.

Second Circuit Copyright Ruling Affirms Independent Contractor Status for Friday the 13th Author

On September 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling in Horror Inc. v. Miller in which the appellate court affirmed a summary judgment ruling in the District of Connecticut which found that Victor Miller was an independent contractor when writing the script for the 1980 classic horror film Friday the 13th. The ruling enables Miller to move forward with copyright termination notices served on Horror, which became the successor-in-interest to the rights to Friday the 13th, so that Miller can claim copyright in the original screenplay.

Roblox is Latest Online Platform to Settle NMPA Copyright Claims with Collaborative Music Licensing Agreement

On September 27, the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) and online game platform provider Roblox announced that the two parties had settled ongoing copyright litigation in the Central District of California over Roblox’s unauthorized use of copyrighted music on its online gaming platform. The settlement also creates an opt-in mechanism for eligible NMPA publishers and opens a negotiation period for individual publishers to engage Roblox in go-forward licensing deals.

Epic Sports Petitions Fifth Circuit for Rehearing En Banc in Texas A&M ‘12th Man’ Copyright/ Takings Clause Case

On September 22, publishing company Canada Hockey L.L.C., doing business as Epic Sports, and Michael Bynum, a sportswriter and editor, filed a petition for rehearing en banc in their appeal of a copyright case against both Texas A&M University and a pair of school officials. In their petition, the plaintiffs argue that the original panel decision erred in failing to find constitutional violations of both the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment for Texas A&M’s unlawful reproduction of the plaintiffs’ copyrighted work regarding the history of the legendary 12th Man at Texas A&M.

IPWatchdog LIVE Panel Examines Google v. Oracle: SCOTUS Punted on Copyrightability

Yesterday at IPWatchdog LIVE, a morning panel discussed “The Impact of Google v. Oracle on Fair Use.” That decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, issued this April, has many ramifications for the future of copyrightability of computer code as well as the analysis of transformative uses of computer code. Speaking on the panel was Chad Rutkowski, Partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP; Van Lindberg, Partner at Taylor English and Counsel and Director of the Python Software Foundation; and Llewellyn Gibbons, Distinguished University Professor, University of Toledo College of Law.

USPTO and Copyright Office Reports Attempt to Quantify Extent and Effect of IP Infringement by State Entities

On August 31, at the request of Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) provided a report to Congress analyzing infringement disputes between patent and trademark rights holders and states and state entities. The U.S. Copyright Office produced a similar, much lengthier report, also in response to a letter from Tillis and Leahy, studying whether there is sufficient basis for federal legislation abrogating State sovereign immunity when States infringe copyrights. The Senators’ letters were prompted by the March 2020 Allen v. Cooper Supreme Court decision. While the USPTO report came to no conclusions, the Copyright Office found that “the evidence indicates that state infringement constitutes a legitimate concern for copyright owners.”

Ninth Circuit Reverses Win for the Turtles’ Rights Owners Under California Law on Copyright for Public Performance

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday ruled that California common law on copyright protection does not include a right of public performance, reversing a partial summary judgment for Flo & Eddie, which controls the rights to the songs of the rock band the Turtles. The case began in 2013, when Flo & Eddie sued Sirius XM Radio, Inc. for playing the Turtles’ iconic pre-1972 recordings, such as “Happy Together” and “Elenore.” While AM/FM radio stations do not pay public performance royalties to sound recording owners, digital and satellite radio providers like Sirius XM must pay public performance royalties whenever they broadcast post-1972 music.