Justia Intellectual Property Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
KYLE HANAGAMI V. EPIC GAMES, INC., ET AL
Choreographer Kyle Hanagami claimed that Epic Games, Inc., the creator of the videogame Fortnite, infringed the copyright of a choreographic work when the company created and sold a virtual animation, known as an “emote,” depicting portions of the registered choreography. The district court dismissed his action under the Copyright Act and remanded for further proceedings on claims of direct and contributory infringement of a choreographic work. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The panel held that, under the “extrinsic test” for assessing substantial similarity, Hanagami plausibly alleged that his choreography and Epic’s emote shared substantial similarities. The panel held that, like other forms of copyrightable material such as music, choreography is composed of various elements that are unprotectable when viewed in isolation. What is protectable is the choreographer’s selection and arrangement of the work’s otherwise unprotectable elements. The panel held that “poses” are not the only relevant element, and a choreographic work also may include body position, body shape, body actions, transitions, use of space, timing, pauses, energy, canon, motif, contrast, and repetition. The panel concluded that Hanagami plausibly alleged that the creative choices he made in selecting and arranging elements of the choreography—the movement of the limbs, movement of the hands and fingers, head and shoulder movement, and tempo—were substantially similar to the choices Epic made in creating the emote. The panel held that the district court also erred in dismissing Hanagami’s claim on the ground that the allegedly copied choreography was “short” and a “small component” of Hanagami’s overall work. View "KYLE HANAGAMI V. EPIC GAMES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
IMPOSSIBLE FOODS INC. V. IMPOSSIBLE X LLC
Impossible X, now a Texas LLC, is a one-person company run by Joel Runyon, a self-described “digital nomad” who for two years operated his business from San Diego. Impossible X sells apparel, nutritional supplements, diet guides, and a consulting service through its website and various social media channels. Impossible Foods sued Impossible X in federal court in California, seeking a declaration that Impossible Foods’ use of the IMPOSSIBLE mark did not infringe on Impossible X’s trademark rights. The district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that Impossible X was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in California because it previously operated out of California and built its brand and trademarks there, and its activities in California were sufficiently affiliated with the underlying trademark dispute to satisfy the requirements of due process. First, Impossible X purposefully directed its activities toward California and availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities there by building its brand and working to establish trademark rights there. Second, Impossible Foods’ declaratory judgment action arose out of or related to Impossible X’s conduct in California. The panel did not confine its analysis to Impossible X’s trademark enforcement activities, but rather concluded that, to the extent the Federal Circuit follows such an approach for patent declaratory judgments, that approach is not justified in the trademark context. Third, the panel concluded that there was nothing unreasonable about requiring Impossible X to defend a lawsuit based on its trademark building activities in the state that was its headquarters and Runyon’s home base. View "IMPOSSIBLE FOODS INC. V. IMPOSSIBLE X LLC" on Justia Law
UNITED AERONAUTICAL CORP., ET AL V. USAF, ET AL
United Aeronautical Corporation and Blue Aerospace, LLC (collectively, Aero) filed suit against the United States Air Force and Air National Guard (collectively, USAF) in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Aero alleges that USAF has for some time violated federal procurement regulations and the Trade Secrets Act by improperly using Aero’s intellectual property. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the Contract Disputes Act (CDA), precludes jurisdiction over Aero’s action by vesting exclusive jurisdiction over federal-contractor disputes in the Court of Federal Claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel agreed with the district court that the Contract Disputes Act “impliedly forbids” jurisdiction over Aero’s claims by vesting exclusive jurisdiction over federal-contractor disputes in the Court of Federal Claims. A claim falls within the scope of the CDA’s exclusive grant of jurisdiction if (1) the plaintiff’s action relates to (2) a procurement contract and (3) to which the plaintiff was a party. Here, Aero’s claims that USAF improperly received and used MAFFS data (1) relate to the DRA, (2) the DRA is a procurement contract, and (3) Aero is a contractor for purposes of the DRA. The panel held that the test set forth in Megapulse, Inc. v. Lewis, 672 F.2d 959 (D.C. Cir. 1982), is limited to determining whether the Tucker Act—which grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Court of Federal Claims over breach-of-contract actions for money damages—“impliedly forbids” an ADA action because Megapulse addressed implied preclusion only pursuant to the Tucker Act, not pursuant to the CDA. View "UNITED AERONAUTICAL CORP., ET AL V. USAF, ET AL" on Justia Law
Y.Y.G.M. SA V. REDBUBBLE, INC.
Y.Y.G.M. SA, doing business as Brandy Melville, manufactures its own clothing, home goods, and other items. It owns several trademarks, including the Brandy Melville Heart Mark (Heart Mark) and the LA Lightning Mark (Lightning Mark). Redbubble owns and operates an online marketplace where artists can upload their artwork to be printed on various products and sold. After a jury found that Redbubble, Inc. had violated Brandy Melville’s trademarks, the district court granted partial judgment as a matter of law to Redbubble on one trademark claim. Both parties appealed. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment after a jury trial in an action brought under the Lanham Act against Red Bubble. Vacating the district court’s order granting in part and denying in part Redbubble’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, the panel held that a party is liable for contributory infringement when it continues to supply its product to one whom it knows or has reason to know is engaging in trademark infringement. A party meets this standard if it is willfully blind to infringement. Agreeing with other circuits, the panel held that contributory trademark liability requires the defendant to have knowledge of specific infringers or instances of infringement. The panel held that, in granting judgment as a matter of law to Redbubble on the claim for contributory trademark counterfeiting as to the Heart Mark, the district court further erred by failing to evaluate the evidence of likelihood of confusion under the correct legal standard. View "Y.Y.G.M. SA V. REDBUBBLE, INC." on Justia Law
ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT LIMITED, INC., ET AL V. CONSTRUX SOFTWARE BUILDERS, INC., ET AL
Plaintiff claimed Defendant infringed her copyrights in two charts depicting organizational change. The key question is whether the copyright in one of those charts was registered with the Copyright Office such that it will support a suit for copyright infringement.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s partial grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, vacated a jury verdict, vacated an award of attorneys’ fees, and remanded an action alleging infringement of copyrights in two charts depicting organizational change. The court held that Plaintiff created a genuine issue of material fact on that question. The panel held that Plaintiff raised a genuine dispute about whether she registered the chart directly or whether she registered elements of that chart by later registering an “Aligning for Success” chart. Agreeing with other circuits on a matter of first impression, the panel held that by registering a derivative work, an author registers all of the material included in the derivative work, including that which previously appeared in an unregistered, original work created by the author. The panel, therefore, reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and also vacated the jury verdict because, as a result of the grant of summary judgment, the district court prevented Plaintiff from introducing any evidence and making any argument as to the Managinwg Complex Change chart at trial. The panel further held that the district court erred in instructing the jury that if it found that Defendant accessed and copied other work but did not copy the registered Aligning for Success chart, then Dfendant’s challenged work was an independent creation. View "ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT LIMITED, INC., ET AL V. CONSTRUX SOFTWARE BUILDERS, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
ALEXIS HUNLEY, ET AL V. INSTAGRAM, LLC
Plaintiffs are photographers who sued Defendant Instagram for copyright infringement. Plaintiff alleged that Instagram violates their exclusive display right by permitting third-party sites to embed the photographers’ Instagram content. The district court held that Instagram could not be liable for secondary infringement because embedding a photo does not “display a copy” of the underlying images under Perfect 10.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of an action brought by two photographers under the Copyright Act alleging that Instagram, LLC, violated their exclusive display right by permitting third-party sites to embed the photographers’ Instagram content. The panel held that, under Perfect 10 v. Amazon, 508 F.3d 1146 (9th Cir. 2007), Instagram could not be liable for secondary infringement because embedding a photo does not "display a copy" of the underlying image. Perfect 10 set forth the “Server Test,” which provides that a copy of a photographic image is not displayed when it is not fixed in a computer’s memory. The panel held that Perfect 10 did not restrict the application of the Server Test to a specific type of website, such as search engine. Arguments that Perfect10 is inconsistent with the Copyright Act are foreclosed by Perfect 10 outside of an en banc proceeding. And Perfect 10 was not effectively overturned by American Broadcasting Co. v. Aereo, 573 U.S. 431 (2014), which held that a streaming provider infringed broadcasters’ exclusive right to public performance. View "ALEXIS HUNLEY, ET AL V. INSTAGRAM, LLC" on Justia Law
VHT, INC. V. ZILLOW GROUP, INC., ET AL
Thousands of copyrighted photos on Zillow’s site come from VHT, a professional real estate photography studio. Zillow used VHT’s photos on its real estate “Listing Platform,” which is the primary display of properties, and on a home design section of the website called “Digs.” Following summary judgment rulings, a jury trial, and various post-trial motions, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court in large part in prior appeal Zillow I. Essentially, the panel agreed with the district court that Zillow was not liable for direct, secondary, or contributory infringement. Back on remand, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in full. The panel held that the district court properly excused VHT’s failure to meet Section 411(a)’s non-jurisdictional exhaustion requirement because copyright registration was wholly collateral to whether Zillow infringed on VHT's copyright, dismissing VHT’s claim after the statute of limitations had already expired would cause irreparable harm, and excusal would not undermine the purpose of administrative exhaustion. The panel affirmed the district court’s ruling, on remand, that the 2,700 VHT photos remaining at issue were not a compilation, which would entitle VHT to only a single award of statutory damages under 17 U.S.C. Section 504(c), but rather, each individual photo constituted an infringement. The photos were part of VHT’s master photo database, and the VHT group registered its images as a “compilation.” But VHT also registered the underlying individual images and licensed these images on a per-image or per-property basis. The panel held that the photos had independent economic value separate from the database and did not qualify as “one work.” View "VHT, INC. V. ZILLOW GROUP, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law
DAVID LOWERY, ET AL V. RHAPSODY INTERNATIONAL, INC.
Counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of copyright holders of musical compositions and recovered a little over $50,000 for the class members from Defendant Rhapsody International, Inc. (now rebranded as Napster), a music streaming service. The class members obtained no meaningful injunctive or nonmonetary relief in the settlement of their action. The district court nonetheless authorized $1.7 in attorneys’ fees under the “lodestar” method. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees to Plaintiffs’ counsel and remanded. The panel held that the touchstone for determining the reasonableness of attorneys’ fees in a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 is the benefit to the class. Here, the benefit was minimal. The panel held that the district court erred in failing to calculate the settlement’s actual benefit to the class members who submitted settlement claims, as opposed to a hypothetical $20 million cap agreed on by the parties. The panel held that district courts awarding attorneys’ fees in class actions under the Copyright Act must still generally consider the proportion between the award and the benefit to the class to ensure that the award is reasonable. The panel recognized that a fee award may exceed the monetary benefit provided to the class in certain copyright cases, such as when a copyright infringement litigation leads to substantial nonmonetary relief or provides a meaningful benefit to society, but this was not such a case. The panel instructed that, on remand, the district court should rigorously evaluate the actual benefit provided to the class and award reasonable attorneys’ fees considering that benefit. View "DAVID LOWERY, ET AL V. RHAPSODY INTERNATIONAL, INC." on Justia Law
ENIGMA SOFTWARE GROUP USA, LLC V. MALWAREBYTES, INC.
Plaintiff Enigma Software Group USA LLC (“Enigma”), a computer security software provider, sued a competitor, Defendant-Appellee Malwarebytes, Inc. (“Malwarebytes”), for designating its products as “malicious,” “threats,” and “potentially unwanted programs” (“PUPs”). Enigma’s operative complaint alleged a false advertising claim under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1125(a)(1)(B), and tort claims under New York law. Malwarebytes moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court granted the motion, concluding that all of Enigma’s claims were insufficient as a matter of law. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. In the context of this case, the panel concluded that when a company in the computer security business describes a competitor’s software as “malicious” and a “threat” to a customer’s computer, that is more a statement of objective fact than a non-actionable opinion. It is potentially actionable under the Lanham Act, provided Enigma plausibly alleges the other elements of a false advertising claim. The panel disagreed with the district court and concluded that Malwarebytes is subject to personal jurisdiction in New York. As this action was initially filed in New York, the law of that state properly applies. Because the panel held that the Lanham Act and NYGBL Section 349 claims should not have been dismissed, the panel concluded that the tortious interference with business relations claim should similarly not have been dismissed. The panel agreed with the district court regarding the dismissal of the claim for tortious interference with contractual relations, however, and affirmed the dismissal of that claim. View "ENIGMA SOFTWARE GROUP USA, LLC V. MALWAREBYTES, INC." on Justia Law
JASON SCOTT COLLECTION, INC. V. TRENDILY FURNITURE, LLC, ET AL
Appellee Jason Scott Collection, Inc. (JSC) and Appellants Trendily Furniture, LLC, Trendily Home Collection, LLC and Rahul Malhotra (collectively, “Trendily”) are high-end furniture manufacturers that sell their products in the Texas market. Trendily intentionally copied three unique furniture designs by JSC and sold them to Texas retailers. The district court granted summary judgment to JSC on its copyright claim and then held Trendily liable on the trade dress claim following a bench trial. On appeal, Trendily challenged only the latter ruling, arguing that trade dress liability is precluded here because JSC did not demonstrate either secondary meaning or the likelihood of consumer confusion. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The panel held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that JSC did so. The panel wrote that Trendily’s clear intent to copy nonfunctional features of JSC’s pieces supports a strong inference of secondary meaning. Noting that copyright and trademark are not mutually exclusive, the panel rejected Trendily’s argument that it should be held liable only under the Copyright Act. The panel held that the district court properly considered several other factors, including that the JSC pieces were continuously manufactured and sold since 2004, that JSC had a longstanding and well-known presence in the high-end furniture market, and that JSC’s furniture was distinctive in the minds of purchasers. The panel held that the district court did not err in finding that there was a likelihood of confusion between the JSC pieces and the Trendily pieces. View "JASON SCOTT COLLECTION, INC. V. TRENDILY FURNITURE, LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law