Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Copyright
Greer v. Moon, et al.
When he discovered his copyrighted book and song online, Plaintiff Russell Greer sent a “takedown notice” to Defendants Joshua Moon and his website Kiwi Farms, requesting the material be removed from the Kiwi Farms site. When Moon refused, Greer sued Defendants for copyright infringement. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding Greer failed to state a claim. On appeal, Greer argued his pro se complaint, construed liberally, adequately “alleged facts demonstrating [Moon and Kiwi Farms] had knowingly induced, encouraged, and materially contributed to direct infringements,” and so “stated a claim for contributory copyright infringement” sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit agreed, reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Greer v. Moon, 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
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
Foss v. Eastern States Exposition
The First Circuit vacated the judgment dismissing on claim preclusion grounds Plaintiff's claims against Eastern States Exposition alleging violations of federal copyright infringement law and the U.S. Visual Artists Rights Act, holding that the district court erred.On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the claim preclusive order gave claim preclusive effect to the dismissal in a prior action that she brought even where the dismissal rested on several grounds, not all of which would on their own render the dismissal claim preclusive. In support of her claim, Plaintiff argued that federal res judicata law recognizes the "alternative-determinations" doctrine. The First Circuit vacated the judgment dismissing the claims at issue, holding (1) the assertedly preclusive dismissal rested on one ground that, on its own, would not allow the dismissal to be claim preclusive, even though the dismissal also rested on two counts that could have; and (2) federal res judiata law recognizes the alternative-determinations doctrine, which strips a dismissal of claim preclusive effect if the dismissal rests on multiple grounds, not all of which would on their own render the dismissal claim preclusive, and the doctrine applied in this case. View "Foss v. Eastern States Exposition" on Justia Law
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION V. CEFCU
Defendant Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) petitioned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel a trademark registration belonging to Plaintiff San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU). SDCCU procured a stay to the TTAB proceedings by filing an action seeking declaratory relief to establish that it was not infringing either of CEFCU’s registered and common-law marks and to establish that those marks were invalid. The district court granted SDCCU’s motion for summary judgment on noninfringement. After a bench trial, the district court also held that CEFCU’s common-law mark was invalid and awarded SDCCU attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion affirming in part and vacating in part the district court’s judgment and award of attorneys’ fees. The panel held that SDCCU had no personal stake in seeking to invalidate CEFCU’s common-law mark because the district court had already granted summary judgment in favor of SDCCU, which established that SDCCU was not infringing that mark. The panel held that the district court correctly exercised personal jurisdiction over CEFCU regarding SDCCU’s noninfringement claims, which sought declaratory relief that SDCCU was not infringing CEFCU’s registered mark or common-law mark. View "SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION V. CEFCU" on Justia Law
WILL CO., LTD. V. KA LEE
Will Co. Ltd., a Japanese adult entertainment producer, brought a copyright infringement action against the owners and operators of ThisAV.com, a video-hosting site based in Hong Kong, alleging that the site was displaying without authorization several of its copyrighted works. The district court found that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over ThisAV.com’s owners and operators because Will Co. could not establish that they “expressly aimed” ThisAV.com’s content at the United States market, or that it was foreseeable that operating the site would cause jurisdictionally significant harm in the United States. Defendants were Youhaha Marketing and Promotion Limited (“YMP”) and Ka Yeung Lee.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a copyright suit for lack of specific personal jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The panel concluded that both YMP and Lee committed at least one intentional act by operating ThisAV.com and purchasing its domain name and domain privacy services. As to the second element, both Defendants did “something more” than mere passive operation of the website. As to the third element, Defendants’ conduct caused harm in the United States because there were almost 1.3 million visits to their website in the United States during the relevant period, and that harm was foreseeable. View "WILL CO., LTD. V. KA LEE" on Justia Law
LANG VAN, INC. V. VNG CORPORATION
In a prior appeal, the Ninth Circuit vacated a prior dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction and remanded with instructions that Plaintiff be permitted to undertake jurisdictional discovery. On remand, the district court granted defendant VNG Corporation’s renewed motion to dismiss, finding that there was no specific personal jurisdiction in California over VNG, a Vietnamese corporation that released the Zing MP3 mobile music application in the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, for lack of personal jurisdiction, of a copyright infringement suit and remanded for further proceedings. In assessing whether Plaintiff established a prima facie case of jurisdiction, the court analyzed jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), which provides for jurisdiction over foreign defendants that have ample contact with the United States as a whole, but whose contacts are so scattered among states that none of them would have jurisdiction. Under Rule 4(k)(2), the plaintiff must prove: (1) the claim at issue arises from federal law; (2) the defendant is not subject to any state’s courts of general jurisdiction; and (3) invoking jurisdiction upholds due process. The plaintiff has the burden to show the first two prongs, and the burden then shifts to the defendant to show that the application of jurisdiction would be unreasonable. The court concluded that VNG purposefully targeted American companies and their intellectual property. Rejecting VNG’s argument regarding forum non conveniens, the court concluded that venue, in this case, was not proper in Vietnam. View "LANG VAN, INC. V. VNG CORPORATION" on Justia Law
Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company
Beatriz Ball, LLC, is a Louisiana company doing business as Beatriz Ball and Beatriz Ball Collection. Barbagallo Company, LLC is a New Jersey company doing business as Pampa Bay. Plaintiff alleged that Pampa Bay has been marketing and distributing products that infringe on Beatriz Ball’s registered copyrights and its unregistered trade dress for its “Organic Pearl” line of tableware. Plaintiff challenged the district court’s conclusions that (1) the company lacked standing under the Copyright Act because the plaintiff did not obtain a valid assignment of its claim, and (2) it failed to establish a protectable trade dress under the Lanham Act. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court erred in its standing determination and that certain errors in its analysis of the trade dress claim require reconsideration by the district court. The court explained that whether Beatriz Ball’s trade dress has acquired secondary meaning is considered a question of fact reviewed on appeal for clear error. Here, the record indicates that the district court clearly erred in analyzing three of the factors: volume of sales, the nature of the use of Organic Pearl trade dress in newspapers and magazines, and the defendant’s intent in copying the trade dress. Ultimately, a visual comparison of Pampa Bay’s products to the Organic Pearl line makes it difficult to deny that there was intent to copy. The designs are not just alike, they are indistinguishable in some cases. Thus, the sum of errors in the district court’s analysis of secondary meaning requires reconsideration of the evidence and overall re-weighing of the factors. View "Beatriz Ball v. Barbagallo Company" on Justia Law
Bimbo Bakeries USA, et al. v. Sycamore, et al.
Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc. (“Bimbo Bakeries”) owned, baked, and sold Grandma Sycamore’s Home-Maid Bread (“Grandma Sycamore’s”). Bimbo Bakeries alleged that United States Bakery (“U.S. Bakery”), a competitor, and Leland Sycamore (“Leland”), the baker who developed the Grandma Sycamore’s recipe, misappropriated its trade secret for making Grandma Sycamore’s. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of U.S. Bakery on a trade dress infringement claim. The parties went to trial on the other two claims, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bimbo Bakeries on both. After the trial, the district court denied U.S. Bakery’s and Leland’s renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law on the trade secrets misappropriation and false advertising claims. The district court did, however, remit the jury’s damages award. All parties appealed. Bimbo Bakeries argued the district court should not have granted U.S. Bakery summary judgment on its trade dress infringement claim and should not have remitted damages for the false advertising claim. U.S. Bakery and Leland argued the district court should have granted their renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, and Leland made additional arguments related to his personal liability. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings because the Court found all of Bimbo Bakeries’ claims failed as a matter of law. View "Bimbo Bakeries USA, et al. v. Sycamore, et al." on Justia Law
Zahourek Systems v. Balanced Body University
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