No Reasonable Possibility of Access to Copyrighted Home Plans, No Infringement

Building Graphics, Inc. is an architecture firm located in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The firm registered copyrights on some of its home plans between 1993 and 1998.  Lennar Corp. builds homes in eighteen states and planned to enter the Charlotte market in 2001.  Lennar hired Drafting & Design, Inc., an architecture firm, to design homes for Lennar to build in the Charlotte area. 

Building Graphics sued Lennar and Drafting & Design for infringing the copyrights on three of its home plans from the 1990s.  Following discovery, Lennar and Drafting & Design moved for summary judgment.  The district court granted the defendants’ motion, ruling that Building Graphics did not show that it was reasonably possible that Lennar had access to Building Graphics’ copyrighted home plans and that there was no substantial similarity between the two sets of plans.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision based on Building Graphics’ failure to show a reasonable possibility of Lennar’s access to the copyrighted plans.

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No Expedited Discovery of Torrent Peers in Internet Copyright Infringement Cases

Third Degree Films filed a complaint against 110 John Doe defendants, alleging copyright infringement arising out the unauthorized distribution of its copyrighted pornographic movie through BitTorrent.  BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol in which each peer acts as a server, storing and distributing small pieces of the work. 

Third Degree filed a motion to conduct expedited discovery to obtain names, addresses, telephone numbers and other information on the defendants from their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) using the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses collected by Third Degree’s investigator.  The district court denied the motion without prejudice, ruling that Third Degree’s need for expedited discovery did not outweigh the prejudice to the John Doe defendants. 

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Cell Phone Picture Taking of Proprietary Machines Leads to Federal Convictions

This case involves the theft of trade secrets for the manufacture of tires for large earthmoving vehicles.  Currently, Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone manufacture such tires in the U.S.  Wyko Tire Technology, a Tennessee company, supplied Goodyear with parts for tire assembly machines to manufacture these huge tires.  HaoHua South China Rubber Company, a competitor to the U.S. tire companies, contracted Wyko to supply four tire-building parts so that it could manufacture tires for large earthmoving vehicles.  Wyko did not know how to make the parts it agreed to make, but knew that Goodyear used machines like Wyko needed to design and build.

Coincidentally, Goodyear asked Wyko to repair some of its tire-assembly machines and two Wyko employees, senior engineer Clark Alan Roberts and engineer Sean Edward Howley, went to Goodyear’s Topeka, Kansas plant.  Roberts and Howley signed secrecy agreements and were told that cameras were not allowed in the plant.  Despite that, when they were left alone for a few minutes, Howley used his cell phone to take pictures of the machines Wyko needed to design and build.  Howley and Roberts circulated the photos among Wyko employees by email.  Wyko’s IT manager spotted the photos and sent them to Goodyear.  Goodyear notified the FBI, leading to the indictment of Roberts and Howley.  A jury convicted Roberts and Howley of 7 counts of theft of trade secrets and 3 counts of wire fraud.  Roberts and Howley appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the convictions.

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Ray Charles Foundation Loses Challenge to Heirs’ Copyright Termination Notices

Musician and composer Ray Charles signed several agreements in the 1950s regarding recording songs for Atlantic Records and composing songs for Progressive Music Publishing Co.  In 1980, Charles purportedly renegotiated his agreement with Progressive’s successor-in-interest, receiving royalties and a cash payment.  The rights that Charles transferred to Progressive are now owned by Warner/Chappell Music.  Charles entered into an agreement with each of his twelve children in 2002.  In exchange for an irrevocable trust funded with $500,000, each child agreed to waive any right to make a claim against Charles’ estate.  When he died eighteen months later, Charles left all of his rights in this works to The Ray Charles Foundation, including the right to receive royalties. 

Seven of Charles’s children served copyright termination notices in 2010, under 17 U.S.C. §304(c)(5) for transfers occurring before 1978 and §203 for transfers occurring in 1978 and later.  The Foundation brought a federal declaratory judgment action against the seven children who filed termination notices (defendants), seeking to invalidate the termination notices.  The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the Foundation’s declaratory judgment claim, ruling that the Foundation lacked standing to bring the declaratory judgment action.

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