Category Archives:Copyright Law

Warner Bros. suing talent agencies over alleged unauthorized copying of films

Recently, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. (“Warner Bros.”) brought a copyright lawsuit against several talent agencies (“Defendants”).[1] The Complaint alleges that Defendants were involved in “an illegal digital distribution platform that copied movies and then distributed copies and streamed public performances of those movies” to insiders and third parties.[2] Warner Bros. is alleging that the Defendants maintained copies of several of Warner Bros. films, which then made their way from Defendants’ platform to third party online piracy websites.[3] It is alleged in the Complaint that Warner Bros. discovered Defendants’ activities in December 2015 as a result of unauthorized copies of the movies Creed and In the Heart of the Sea appearing on online piracy sites after copies of such movies were sent by Warner Bros. to Defendants for delivery to one of Defendants’ clients.[4] Warner Bros. claims that the copies of these movies were “watermarked” and could be traced back to Defendants, who allegedly bypassed the security measures placed on the “screener” DVD copies and then copied such movies to their digital distribution platform.[5]

Warner Bros. acknowledges in its Complaint that Defendants represented that they terminated the digital distribution platform after being notified by Warner Bros.[6] However, Warner Bros. is still seeking an injunction to prevent Defendants from creating a similar distribution platform.[7] Warner Bros. alleges it would suffer irreparable harm because Defendants’ digital platform maintained copies of Warner Bros’ works without the necessary security technology measures, which could allow such works to be further copied.[8] The Complaint alleges causes of action for Copyright Infringement and Violation of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act.[9] Warner Bros. is also seeking monetary damages and attorneys’ fees as a result of Defendants’ alleged willful conduct.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.

Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Shareholder

[1] See, Warner Bros. Entm’t, Inc. v. Innovative Artists Talent and Literary Agency, Inc., et. al., No. 16-cv-7902 at Docket Entry No. 1 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 24, 2016).
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.

Supreme Court weighs in on standard for attorneys’ fees in Copyright cases

This entry is a follow up to a previous blog article that discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016 WL 205944 (Jan. 15, 2016), which sought determination of the proper standard for attorneys’ fees awards in copyright cases. Recently, the Supreme Court entered a decision in this case setting forth specific guidelines.[1] Specifically, the Supreme Court found that when deciding to award attorneys’ fees under the Copyright Act, the district court should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the non-prevailing party’s position.[2] The Supreme Court also found that all other circumstances relevant to granting attorneys’ fees must still be taken into consideration as objective reasonableness should not be the only consideration.[3] Thus, a district court would retain discretion, in light of such factors, to enter an award of attorneys’ fees even if the non-prevailing party advanced a reasonable position.[4] Other guidance that comes from the Supreme Court’s decision is confirmation of the principles that while a district court has discretion to award attorneys’ fees they are not to be ordered as a matter of course and that prevailing plaintiffs and defendants may not be treated differently.[5]

The Supreme Court supported its holding by noting that its approach “both encourages parties with strong legal positions to stand on their rights and deters those with weak ones from proceedings with litigation.”[6] Further, the Supreme Court noted that a “district court that has ruled on the merits of a copyright case can easily access whether the losing party advanced an unreasonable claim or defense,” since the judge will assess the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s positions when deciding the case.[7] As a result, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the District Court so that the District Court can determine whether an attorneys’ fees award is proper under the standards set forth in the Supreme Court’s decision.[8] These standards must now be considered in any decision by a Plaintiff or Defendant to continue to litigate a lawsuit or otherwise attempt to settle.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.

Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Shareholder

[1] See, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 15-375 (Jun. 16, 2016), the discussion on which can be found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/15-375_4f57.pdf
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.

United States Supreme Court to hear copyright lawsuit regarding cheerleader uniforms

This entry is a follow up to a previous blog article[1] regarding the case of Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC, 799 F.3d 468 (6th Cir. 2015), in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that designs on cheerleading uniforms are eligible for copyright protection, namely stripes, chevrons, and color blocks incorporated into a uniform. Star Athletica, LLC then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, which recently agreed to hear the case.[2] The Supreme Court agreed to hear only one issue from Star Athletica, LLC’s petition, namely the question: What is the appropriate test to determine when a feature of a useful article is protectable under § 101 of the Copyright Act?[3]

Copyright protection can exist for “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” (“PGS works”).[4] PGS works “include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.”[5] Generally, copyright protection will not inure to something that merely serves a utilitarian purpose, such as a chair. This dispute resolves around how to separate copyrightable designs from utilitarian objects that are not subject to copyright protection, within a cheerleading uniform. Star Athletica, LLC claims in its petition that this case will resolve important issues in the fashion industry and warns that if the Sixth Circuit’s decision is not overturned then “industrial designers can claim copyright protections . . . for pleats on tennis skirts, button patterns on golf shirts, and colored patches on rugby uniforms.”[6]

The Supreme Court’s decision is also likely to be significant in that it has the potential to provide a clear test for determining the extent of copyright protection in PGS Works. As stated in more detail in our previous blog entry, the case law is unsettled regarding the proper test to determine whether creative designs are separate from utilitarian functions. The Supreme Court’s decision can also have significant impact on the 3D printing industry. A clear test would provide clarity on the extent to which certain 3D printed objects that combine creative designs and utilitarian functions are subject to copyright protection.[7] An Amicus Brief filed by 3D printing companies warns that “[t]he current state of the law increases barriers to entry for market participants who stand to take greatest advantages of 3D printing. . . . [and that] [t]he confusion surrounding the conceptual separability doctrine will likely lead to elevated levels of litigation.”[8] Although a decision by the Supreme Court is not likely for several months, when it is entered, it is likely to have significant impact on the scope of copyright protection, especially in the fashion industry.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.

Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Shareholder

[1] This blog was entitled “Sixth Circuit finds that designs on Cheerleader Uniforms can by copyrighted.”
[2] See, Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 2016 WL 98761 (May 2, 2016).
[3] Id.
[4] See, 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(5)
[5] See, 17 U.S.C. § 101.
[6] See, http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/SACP.pdf, at pg. 6.
[7] See, http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Star-Athletica-v-Varsity-Brands-Amicus-of-Shapeways-FILED.pdf, at pg. 2-5.
[8] Id. at pg. 4.