Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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In 2012, Smith, a recording artist called Bigg Robb, wrote and recorded “Looking for a Country Girl” and registered his copyright. Thomas, called Bishop Bullwinkle, another Southern Soul musician, used the first 12 seconds of "Looking" as the beat for a new song, Hell 2 Da Naw Naw, without Smith’s permission or giving Smith credit. When the two were performing at the same venue, Smith, in his dressing room, “heard one of [his] songs playing” and rushed out to see Thomas performing Hell 2. Smith confronted Thomas, who admitted to sampling. As the two negotiated, Hell 2 went viral. Thomas uploaded a music video, which got millions of views, and articles were written about his “meteoric rise.” Eventually, Thomas stopped acknowledging Smith’s contribution. He publicly accused Smith of being a liar. Smith sued. Both parties represented themselves. Thomas did not appear at trial: he only filed a two-page answer to Smith’s complaint and two short conclusory letters. He ignored discovery requests. Smith gave a thorough presentation with supporting exhibits and played both songs. Smith explained that he had only a “guesstimation” of damages based on Hell 2’s YouTube views and Thomas’s public performances. The court awarded him 50% ownership rights in Hell 2 (and any derivatives) and enjoined Thomas from further infringement; found that Smith had not presented sufficient evidence to show actual damages but had “elected” statutory damages, 17 U.S.C. 504(c), and awarded Smith $30,000, substantially less than he requested. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Smith made multiple statements that clearly indicated his intent to seek statutory damages. View "Smith v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Every winter for about 60 years, Tawas, Michigan has been the home of the “Perchville” festival, including a polar bear swim and a fishing contest. The Chamber of Commerce organizes the event and registered the name Perchville as a trademark. While dues-paying members of the Chamber may use the Perchville mark, non-members must pay a ($750) licensing fee to use it. A local company, AuSable, wants to make Perchville-branded tee-shirts, and sued the Chamber to invalidate its mark. The district court declined. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. “Perchville” is a distinctive term eligible for protection under the Lanham Act, which protects “any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof” that a person uses “to identify and distinguish his or her goods” in the marketplace, 15 U.S.C. 1127. “No matter how you slice it, the term ‘Perchville’ is inherently distinctive. The name does not refer to a place. It serves only ‘to identify a particular’ event, namely the annual winter festival in Tawas. … The word almost certainly counts as fanciful, and at the very least is sufficiently suggestive to qualify as an inherently distinctive trademark.” View "AuSable River Trading Post v. Dovetail Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Artistry, a jewelry wholesaler, sells its products to retailers across the country. Sterling is the largest specialty jewelry retailer in the country. It operates in all 50 States in roughly 1,300 stores, including Kay Jewelers and Jared. Sterling began marketing a line of jewelry under the name “Artistry Diamond Collection.” Artistry accused Sterling of infringing its trademark. The district court granted Sterling summary judgment, concluding that its mark was not likely to confuse consumers in the distinct market in which it operated. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The word “artistry,” like the word “artisan,” is not an innovation when it comes to craft goods and is not likely to distinguish one product from another. The evidence suggested that at least 23 other jewelry companies used the word in some way, which diminishes the likelihood that a consumer who comes across Artistry, Ltd.’s name would think of Kay’s Artistry Diamond Collection and become confused. The companies use the marks differently: one to brand products and the other to brand a company and the wholesale services it provides. The court also noted the distinct nature of the consumers targeted by each company’s set of products. View "Sterling Jewelers, Inc. v. Artistry Ltd." on Justia Law

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More than 95% of the world’s bourbon comes from Kentucky. One distiller, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., was called “the most remarkable man to enter the whiskey industry during the post-Civil War years.” Taylor built the Old Taylor Distillery in 1887 in Woodford County, to resemble a medieval limestone castle. The distillery fell into financial ruin and changed hands several times after the Colonel’s death. Production ceased in 1972. In 2014, Peristyle purchased the Old Taylor distillery, planning to renovate and resume bourbon production there. Peristyle renamed the property “Castle & Key” and intends to do business under that name, including marketing its bourbons and whiskeys. During the renovation period, the company regularly referred to its location at “the Former Old Taylor Distillery” or simply “Old Taylor.” Sazerac, which owns the trademark rights to “Old Taylor” and “Colonel E.H. Taylor” and produces bourbons under both names, sued Peristyle, alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising under the Lanham Act as well as common law trademark infringement, unfair competition, and passing-off violations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Peristyle, which used the Old Taylor name descriptively and in good faith, qualifying for shelter under the Lanham Act’s fair use defense, 15 U.S.C. 1115(b)(4). View "Sazerac Brands, LLC v. Peristyle, LLC" on Justia Law

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Leapers makes rifle scopes, textured with “knurling,” allowing users to grip the products more easily and to make fine-tuned adjustments. Knurling can be found on many items, including door handles, coin edges, and bottle lids. Leapers asserts that its unique knurling pattern is distinctly “ornamental” and allows consumers to recognize Leapers as the item's source. Leapers had an exclusive manufacturing contract with the Nantong factory in China, which agreed to never disclose information related to the products. Leapers ended that relationship. The factory agreed to stop using technical specifications, product design and packaging design documents related to Leaper and to destroy parts, accessories, and attachments related to Leaper’s products. Factory manager Shi formed a company (Trarms) and began selling rifle scopes and manufacturing rifle scopes for other sellers, including Defendant. Leaper’s sued, alleging trade dress infringement of the knurling design under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 105. Shi refused to testify, asserting the Fifth Amendment. Trarms refused to provide an alternate witness. The court granted Defendant summary judgment, reasoning that Leapers could not prove essential elements: nonfunctionality and secondary meaning, regardless of Shi 's testimony. The Sixth Circuit vacated. A jury could reasonably conclude that the design is purely ornamental and nonfunctional; that it does not represent a technological advancement; and that exclusive use of Leaper’s design would not put competitors at a significant, non-reputation related disadvantage. View "Leapers, Inc. v. SMTS, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tawas, Michigan hosts an annual festival called “Perchville.” Its Chamber of Commerce obtained federal trademark registration for the term “Perchville,” in 2003. Trading Post allegedly was selling merchandise depicting the term “Perchville.” The Chamber filed suit against Agnello, a Trading Post employee, and obtained an ex parte injunctive order prohibiting sales of t-shirts with the mark, which stated: “this order shall be binding upon the parties to this action, their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys and on those persons in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice of this order by personal service [or] otherwise.” Agnello appeared at a hearing without an attorney, indicated that he had spoken to Trading Post's partial owner about the lawsuit, but repeatedly stated that he was confused. Agnello consented to a permanent injunction. The judge stated that the order would be binding on anyone acting in concert with Agnello. Trading Post filed suit, challenging the Chamber’s trademark of “Perchville.” The district court found the challenge barred by res judicata because a final determination on the merits occurred in the state court. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There may be circumstances when an employee’s interests are so aligned with his employer as to be in privity for purposes of res judicata, that was not true here. Agnello was an hourly employee given a few days’ notice of an injunction. View "AuSable River Trading Post, LLC v. Dovetail Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law