Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Copyright
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Since 2007, EC Design, LLC, sold its popular personal organizer, the LifePlanner. In 2015, Craft Smith, Inc., wanting to enter the personal-organizer market, reached out to EC Design about a possible collaboration. EC Design and Craft Smith couldn't agree to a collaboration. Craft Smith, with input from Michaels Stores, Inc., designed and developed a personal organizer to sell in Michaels stores, leading to this action in Utah federal district court. EC Design claims the Craft Smith and Michaels product infringed on the LifePlanner’s registered compilation copyright and unregistered trade dress. The district court disagreed, granting summary judgment in favor of Craft Smith and Michaels (collectively, the Appellees) on both issues. On the copyright issue, the district court concluded that EC Design did not own a valid copyright in its asserted LifePlanner compilation. On trade dress, the district court held that EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Though the Tenth Circuit disagreed with how the district court framed the copyright issue, the Tenth Circuit affirmed because no reasonable juror could conclude that the allegedly infringing aspects of Appellees’ organizer were substantially similar to the protected expression in the LifePlanner compilation. With respect to the trade dress issue, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court: EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Summary judgment as to both claims was affirmed. View "Craft Smith v. EC Design" on Justia Law

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These appeals involves a sculptural work called “the Maniken,” which portrays the human body. The defendant, Balanced Body University, bought several Manikens and used them to advertise and instruct students on human anatomy. Jon Zahourek and his company Zahourek Systems, Inc., sued for copyright infringement (among other claims). The district court granted summary judgment to Balanced Body University on the copyright-infringement claim, concluding that the Maniken was unprotected as a “useful article.” If the Maniken was a useful article, it wouldn’t ordinarily be protectible under the copyright laws. The Tenth Circuit concluded that a genuine issue of material fact existed on whether the Maniken was a useful article. View "Zahourek Systems v. Balanced Body University" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of Brent Sloan’s participation in two transactions: (1) a merger between Advanced Recovery Systems, LLC and Kinum, Inc.; and (2) the sale of software from Kinum to Sajax Software, LLC. American Agencies, LLC alleged harm from these transactions and sued Sloan for damages and restitution. After the close of evidence, Sloan filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Following the denial of this motion, a jury found Sloan liable on American Agencies’ claims of tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, tortious interference with contract, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Sloan unsuccessfully renewed his motion for judgment as a matter of law. After the district court denied this motion, Sloan appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part finding Sloan did not preserve his arguments as to tortious interference with business relations, conspiracy to interfere with business relations, and tortious interference with contract. The Tenth Circuit agreed the district court erred in instructing the jury on improper means, and the Court concurred with Sloan that on the claim of unjust enrichment, the jury could not have reasonably inferred the value of a benefit to him. View "Sloan v. American Agencies, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant BWP Media USA, Inc. d/b/a Pacific Coast News and National Photo Group, LLC (“BWP”) appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Clarity Digital Group, LLC n/k/a AXS Digital Media Group, LLC (“AXS”). BWP owned the rights to photographs of various celebrities. In February 2014, BWP filed a complaint alleging that AXS infringed its copyrights by posting 75 of its photographs without permission on AXS’s website, "Examiner.com." Rather than hiring a centralized writing staff, the content generated on Examiner.com was created by independent contractors, called “Examiners,” all over the world. Because it was a group of Examiners that posted the infringing content on Examiner.com, AXS asserted it was protected under the DMCA’s safe harbor provision. ." AXS asserted it was protected from liability by the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) and moved for summary judgment. The district court agreed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit also agreed and affirmed the district court. View "BWP Media USA v. Clarity Digital Group" on Justia Law

Posted in: Copyright
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Plaintiff Savant Home, Inc., a custom home designer and builder, held a registered copyright to a floor plan of a three-bedroom ranch house (“Anders Plan”). Savant built a model house embodying that plan in Windsor, Colorado (“Savant house”). In June 2009, Ron and Tammie Wagner toured the Savant house and hired builder Douglas Collins and his firm, Douglas Consulting, LLC (jointly, “Collins”) to build a house. Collins, in turn, contracted with Stewart King to design the house. After Collins and Mr. King completed the Wagners’ house, Ms. Wagner hired them to build a second house. Savant sued Collins for copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, civil conspiracy, trade dress infringement, and other claims, alleging defendants copied the Anders Plan by building the two houses. The district court granted Defendants summary judgment on two grounds: (1) Savant failed to offer evidence of inherent distinctiveness or secondary meaning and (2) no reasonable jury could find a likelihood of confusion. Savant appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court as to the first ground and therefore did not address the second. View "Savant Homes v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Stan Lee Media claimed to own intellectual-property rights in a number of popular Marvel Enterprises comic-book characters. Its claims derived from a 1998 contractual agreement with Stan Lee, in which he transferred all of his ownership rights in characters he created while working at Marvel to Stan Lee Media in exchange for salary and other benefits. Stan Lee Media brought copyright infringement claims against Marvel Enterprises' corporate owner, The Walt Disney Company. Disney disputed whether Stan Lee Media had any interest whatever in the Marvel characters. The Ninth Circuit addressed the complex question of ownership in "Stan Lee Media, Inc. v. Lee," (2014 WL 5462400 (9th Cir. Oct. 29, 2014)), finding that Stan Lee Media could not even allege any right to ownership of the disputed properties. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the Ninth Circuit’s decision on the ownership issue was entitled to collateral-estoppel effect in subsequent cases involving claims for relief premised on that issue. Thus, because Stan Lee Media was precluded from alleging ownership of the at-issue intellectual properties, Stan Lee Media’s copyright-infringement claim failed here as a matter of law. View "Stan Lee Media v. Walt Disney Company" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Copyright
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David Richison began a payroll processing company in the 1990s in Oklahoma with his niece and nephew, Shannon and Chad Richison. The company was called "Ernest Group, Inc." and did business under the name "Paycom Payroll." David wrote two software programs for use at the company. The first program, ("BOSS") was assigned to Ernest Group in 1999. The second was called "Independence." David left Ernest Group and moved to Maryland where he formed his own payroll company, "Period Financial Corporation." David wrote a third program, "Indy," based in part on Independence. In 2009, Ernest Group filed a copyright infringement suit against David and Period, alleging that Indy infringed on Ernest Group's copyright in BOSS. Shortly after filing its complaint, Ernest Group registered a copyright in Independence, calling it a work-for-hire. By 2011, David had written a fourth program, "Cromwell," which would become a new basis for Ernest Group's lawsuit. The parties ultimately settled and agreed to the entry of a consent decree. All of Ernest Group's claims were released, except a claim for injunctive relief based on infringement. All rights to Independence were assigned to Ernest Group, and the parties agreed that a special master be assigned to determine whether Cromwell infringed on BOSS or Independence. The parties could not agree, however, which version of Cromwell should have been the subject of the special master's analysis. The special master ultimately found copyright infringement occurred, and the district court adopted the special master's report. David and his company appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found the special master did not document his application of each step of the abstraction-filtration-comparison test, and that "[h]is report reads consonantly with the misconception that an infringement analysis begins and ends with 'copying in fact.'" The Court therefore vacated the district court's order adopting the report and remanded with instructions for the district court to request a more thorough report with which to analyze Ernest Group's infringement claim.View "Paycom Payroll, et al v. Richison, et al" on Justia Law

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The case involves statements made by plaintiff Vehicle Market Research, Inc. (VMR) in a breach of contract case that were allegedly inconsistent with earlier statements by its sole owner, John Tagliapietra. VMR developed and owned certain intellectual property, including a software system to calculate the value of a total loss of an automobile for the purposes of the automobile insurance industry and certain “pre-existing software tools, utilities, concepts, techniques, text, research or development” used in the development of the software. When Mr. Tagliapietra filed for personal bankruptcy, he asserted that his shares in VMR were worth nothing. A few years later, as the bankruptcy was winding down, VMR sued Mitchell International, Inc., a company which held an exclusive license to VMR's technology. That case sought $4.5 million in damages for the alleged misappropriation of that technology. The question this case presented to the Tenth Circuit was whether the statements by VMR and Mr. Tagliapietra in the litigation against Mitchell were so clearly contrary to the statements made by Mr. Tagliapietra in his bankruptcy proceeding that VMR should have been judicially estopped from proceeding with its suit against Mitchell. After review, the Court concluded that neither VMR’s litigation claim for payments nor Mr. Tagliapietra’s deposition testimony in that lawsuit was clearly inconsistent with his valuation of 0.00 for his VMR stock at the time of his bankruptcy petition in 2005, the date when the initial bankruptcy representations were made. "If there were grounds for judicial estoppel, it would have to be based on a duty by Mr. Tagliapietra to amend his bankruptcy pleadings to report a possible increased value for his VMR stock at least as of the time that VMR filed its suit against Mitchell in 2009. However, our precedent is not clear on whether a debtor has a continuing duty to amend his bankruptcy schedules when the estate’s assets change in value. Given our reluctance to invoke judicial estoppel, and keeping in mind that judicial estoppel is an affirmative defense that its proponent must prove, we conclude that in this case Mitchell has not met its burden of showing any clearly inconsistent statements that would warrant that relief." View "Vehicle Market Research v. Mitchell International" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff–Appellant Hornady Manufacturing Company, Inc., appealed a district court order granting summary judgment to Defendant–Appellee DoubleTap, Inc., on Hornady's trademark infringement claims. Hornady manufactured and sold firearm ammunition and related products. Since 1997, Hornady sold various products under the name "TAP," short for "Tactical Application Police." Hornady acquired trademark registration for the nonstylized word mark, "TAP." Photographs in the record indicated that the packaging for Hornady's products conspicuously features the TAP mark, both as a stand-alone mark and as incorporated within a shield resembling a police officer's badge. DoubleTap has been described as a "niche" ammunition manufacturer. Photographs in the record indicated that, as of 2006, packaging for DoubleTap's products displayed its mark as two separate words, "Double Tap," within a blue oval and flanked to the left by two bullet holes. Both parties moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on whether DoubleTap infringed on Hornady's TAP mark. Reviewing the record de novo, the Tenth Circuit held hold that two factors, strength of the mark and similarity of products and marketing, favored Hornady. The remaining four factors favored DoubleTap. "The tilt of the scales does not determine the issue. However, the key inquiry, the similarity of the marks, strongly favors DoubleTap." Hornady failed to raise a genuine factual issue regarding the likelihood of confusion, and the district court properly awarded summary judgment to DoubleTap. View "Hornady Manufacturing Co. v. Doubletap" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Andrew Diversey sued several administrators and members of the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico (UNM) for infringing his copyright to an unpublished dissertation. The district court dismissed plaintiff's complaint as untimely. The issue before the Tenth Circuit centered on the determination of when claims of copyright infringement accrue, and, in particular, whether accrual is delayed until a continuing course of infringement ceases. Barring the application of an appropriate tolling principle, a copyright infringement claim must be brought within three years of the date on which the plaintiff becomes aware of an act of infringement or becomes chargeable with knowledge of it. Applying this rule, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Diversey v. Schmidly, et al" on Justia Law