Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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Defendant appealed a jury verdict finding that he vicariously and contributorily infringed Erickson's copyrighted images by displaying them on his website and did so willfully. This case arose when defendant hired a website developer, Only Websites, to redevelop defendant's company website and three photos taken by Erickson were incorporated on the company site. The panel vacated the jury's vicarious liability verdict because Erickson presented no evidence that could constitute a direct financial benefit as a matter of law. However, the panel affirmed the jury's contributory liability verdict and upheld the judgment against defendant, because the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury that "knowledge" for contributory infringement purposes includes having a "reason to know" of the infringement. Finally, the panel vacated the jury's willfulness finding and remanded for a determination of whether defendant's infringement was willful on the existing record. View "Erickson Productions, Inc. v. Kast" on Justia Law

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VHT filed a copyright infringement suit against Zillow, alleging that Zillow's use of photos on its Listing Platform and Digs exceeded the scope of VHT's licenses to brokers, agents, and listing services who provided those photos to Zillow. The Ninth Circuit held that VHT failed to satisfy its burden of demonstrating that Zillow directly infringed the photos displayed on the Listing Platform, because VHT failed to provide evidence showing that Zillow exercised control; selected any material for upload, download, transmission, or storage; or instigated any copying, storage or distribution of the photos. The panel also held that VHT did not present substantial evidence that Zillow, through the Digs platform, directly infringed its display, reproduction, or adaption rights in 22,109 not displayed photos and 2,093 displayed but non-searchable photos. However, the fair use defense did not absolve Zillow of direct liability for 3,921 displayed, searchable Digs photos. The panel affirmed the district court's grant of Zillow's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to secondary infringement, both contributory and vicarious infringement. In regard to damages, the panel remanded to the district court for further proceedings as to whether the VHT photos remaining at issue were a compilation, and held that substantial evidence did not show Zillow was actually aware of its infringing activity nor was it reckless or willfully blind to its infringement. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "VHT, Inc. v. Zillow Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a Lanham Act action brought by Applied Underwriters, alleging claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Although the district court abused its discretion when it sanctioned Applied Underwriters and dismissed the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) absent an order requiring Applied Underwriters to file an amended complaint, the panel nevertheless affirmed the district court's earlier Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal because the use of Applied Underwriters' trademarks by defendants constituted nominative fair use. In this case, Applied Underwriters' service was not readily identifiable without use of the trademarks; defendants used only so much of the marks as was reasonably necessary; and use of the marks did not suggest sponsorship or endorsement. View "Applied Underwriters, Inc. v. Lichtenegger" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an order granting defendants' petition for panel rehearing, withdrawing the panel’s opinion, and ordering the filing of a superseding opinion. The panel also filed a superseding opinion reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in a trademark infringement suit over the "Honey Badger" catchphrases under the Lanham Act. The panel held that, under the test in Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989), the Lanham Act applies to expressive works only where the public interest in avoiding consumer confusion outweighs the public interest in free expression. In this case, defendants have not used plaintiff's mark in the creation of a song, photograph, video game, or television show, but have largely just pasted plaintiff's mark into their greeting cards. The panel held that a jury could determine that this use of plaintiff's mark was explicitly misleading as to the source or content of the cards. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gordon v. Drape Creative, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment for Led Zeppelin in a copyright infringement suit alleging that Led Zeppelin copied "Stairway to Heaven" from the song "Taurus," written by Spirit band member Randy Wolfe. The panel held that several of the district court's jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial. Therefore, the panel remanded for a new trial. The panel also held that the scope of copyright protection for an unpublished work under the Copyright Act of 1909 is defined by the deposit copy, and the sound recordings of "Taurus" as performed by Spirit could not be used to prove substantial similarity. The panel also held that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing recordings of "Taurus" to be played for the purpose of demonstrating access. Finally, the district court was well within its discretion when it chose to exclude expert testimony on the basis of a conflict of interest. The panel vacated and remanded the district court's denial of defendants' motions for attorneys' fees and costs. View "Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin" on Justia Law

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A bare allegation that a defendant is the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol address associated with infringing activity is not sufficient to state a claim for direct or contributory infringement. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by plaintiff under the Copyright Act, alleging direct and contributory infringement. The panel held that the direct infringement claim failed because defendant's status as the registered subscriber of an infringing IP address, standing alone, did not create a reasonable inference that he was also the infringer. The panel reasoned that because multiple devices and individuals may be able to connect via an IP address, simply identifying the IP subscriber solved only part of the puzzle. The panel held that a plaintiff must allege something more to create a reasonable inference that a subscriber is also an infringer. Furthermore, Cobbler Nevada could not succeed on its contributory infringement theory because, without allegations of intentional encouragement or inducement of infringement, an individual's failure to take affirmative steps to police his internet connection was insufficient to state a claim. View "Cobbler Nevada, LLC v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to CBS in an action alleging violation of state law copyrights owned by ABS in sound recordings originally fixed before 1972. The panel held that the district court erred in finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact about the copyright eligibility of remastered sound recordings distributed by CBS and improperly concluded that ABS's state copyright interest in pre-1972 sound recordings embodied in the remastered sound recordings was preempted; the district court abused its discretion by excluding evidence of ABS's expert and reports that evidenced CBS's performance of ABS's sound recordings in California, and granting partial summary judgment of no infringement with respect to the samples contained in those reports; and the district court's strict application of its local rules with respect to the timeliness of ABS's motion for class action certification was inconsistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and thus an abuse of discretion. The panel reversed the striking of class certification and remanded for further proceedings. View "ABS Entertainment, Inc. v. CBS Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in a trademark infringement action over the "Honey Badger" catchphrases under the Lanham Act. The panel applied the test in Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989), to balance the competing interests at stake when a trademark owner claims that an expressive work infringes on its trademark rights. The panel held that the Rogers test was not an automatic safe harbor for any minimally expressive work that copies someone else's mark. In this case, a jury could determine that defendants did not add any value protected by the First Amendment but merely appropriated the goodwill associated with plaintiff's mark. Defendants have not used another’s mark in the creation of a song, photograph, video game, or television show, but have largely just pasted plaintiff's mark into their greeting cards. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Gordon v. Drape Creative, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees in a copyright infringement action brought by a film production company, alleging that a single user illegally downloaded and distributed repeatedly American Heist, a Hollywood action movie. In Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994), the Supreme Court laid out factors to guide discretion in whether to award fees. The panel held that the district court did not faithfully apply the Fogerty factors in this meritorious BitTorrent action. The panel noted that the district court's analysis of whether fees are warranted should be based on Glacier's case against defendant, and not on the district court's view of BitTorrent litigation in general or on the conduct of Glacier's counsel in other suits. Therefore, remand was necessary because the district court denied fees under the present circumstances based on a one-size-fits-all disapproval of other BitTorrent suits. View "Glacier Films (USA), Inc. v. Turchin" on Justia Law

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OTR filed suit against Defendant West, asserting various claims under the Lanham Act and state law. Primarily at issue on appeal was whether West could be found liable for reverse passing off under the Lanham Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment, holding that West was liable for reverse passing off because he did not simply copy OTR's intellectual property but passed off genuine OTR products as his own. In this case, West asked one of OTR's suppliers to provide him with sample tires from OTR's molds; he asked the supplier to remove OTR's identifying information from the tires; and he wanted to use the tires to obtain business from one of OTR's customers. The panel affirmed the district court's conclusion that West did not establish that OTR committed fraud on the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and held that fraud on the PTO must be established by clear and convincing evidence. The panel also affirmed the denial of a new trial on the issue of trade dress validity and the district court's rejection of a proposed jury instruction. The panel addressed additional issues in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition. View "OTR Wheel Engineering, Inc. v. West Worldwide Services, Inc." on Justia Law