Articles Posted in Copyright

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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

Posted in: Business Law, Copyright

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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

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Julia Copeland Cooper appealed the grant of summary judgment that dismissed on statute of limitations grounds her Copyright Act claims against NCS Pearson, Inc. for co-ownership of a psychological test. The statute of limitations for claims under the Copyright Act is three years; because any such claims available to Copeland would have accrued in 1993 or 1996 and she did not bring this action until 2010, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Cooper v. NCS Pearson, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a copyright infringement case, Enterprise Management Limited, Inc. and Mary Lippitt appealed a summary judgment in favor of Donald Warrick. Lippitt contended, contrary to the district court's holding, she demonstrated a prima facie case of copyright infringement. At issue was a diagram Lippitt created in the course of her work in organizational management. The diagram aimed to encapsulate and communicate the results of her research on the failures of complex organizational change initiatives. She created and registered the first version of the diagram in 1987; sometime around 1996, she updated it. She registered the update as part of a larger work in 2000; it was also included in materials she registered in 2003. In his motion for summary judgment, Warrick argued: (1) Lippitt could not prove she held a valid copyright on the diagram because she could not produce the diagram from the materials accompanying her 1987 registration to show its similarity to Warrick's diagram; (2) Lippitt's diagram was not copyrightable; and (3) Warrick's diagram did not infringe on any protected expression in Lippitt's diagram. After hearing arguments, the court granted Warrick's motion without issuing a written opinion. Lippitt contended summary judgment was inappropriate. In her view, her copyright infringement claim was viable because her diagram was entitled to copyright protection and Warrick admits to copying her duly registered diagram. Finding no merit to Warrick's arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Enterprise Management Limited, Inc. v. Warrick" on Justia Law

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Appellant Gary Blehm brought a copyright infringement action against Appellees Albert and John Jacobs and the Life is Good Company (collectively “Life is Good”). Appellant created copyrighted posters featuring cartoon characters called “Penmen.” He contended that numerous Life is Good depictions of a cartoon character called “Jake” infringed on his copyrighted works. The district court granted Life is Good’s motion for summary judgment, holding that no infringement occurred because the copyrighted and accused works are not substantially similar. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: " Copying alone is not infringement. The infringement determination depends on what is copied. Assuming Life is Good copied Penmen images when it produced Jake images, our substantial similarity analysis shows it copied ideas rather than expression, which would make Life is Good a copier but not an infringer under copyright law." View "Blehm v. Jacobs, et al" on Justia Law