Not All Copyright Ownership Disputes Get Decided in Federal Court

It has long been established in this Circuit that a title dispute is a traditional state court property dispute which does not necessarily confer federal copyright jurisdiction.  If it were otherwise, then every copyright title dispute could be brought in federal court. That said, many copyright ownership disputes clearly do arise under the Copyright Act.  For example, a dispute that turns on whether a copyrighted work was created independently or as a ‘work made for hire’ is an ownership dispute that unquestionably arises under the Copyright Act.

(Opinion pdf page 4). 

Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction (i.e., power to decide the case) over copyright cases.  State courts do not have jurisdiction to decide federal copyright issues.  What determines whether a copyright ownership dispute is simply a contractual issue to be decided in state court or whether it is a copyright issue to be decided in federal court?

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Photos and Videos of Singing Telegram Performer Don’t Infringe Copyright

Catherine Conrad is an entertainer who performs wearing a giant banana costume.  She was hired to perform a singing telegram at a credit union trade association event.  Conrad authorized audience members to take photos or videos for their personal use only.  Conrad sued several credit unions, some credit union employees and the trade association of credit unions for copyright infringement after audience members posted some of the photos on Facebook and other Internet sites.  The district court dismissed the copyright infringement claim as having no merit.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

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No Copyright Infringement for Photos Registered After Suit Filed

Louis Psihoyos is a professional photographer.  John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is a textbook publisher.  Wiley discovered that it published some of Psihoyos’ photos in its textbooks without a license from Psihoyos.  Wiley requested licenses from Psihoyos after the fact.  Psihoyos sued Wiley for infringing the copyrights on eight photos.  Although Psihoyos won the case overall, some of the photos he alleged were infringed were excluded from consideration by the jury.

This case emphasizes the importance of making sure that the infringed works are registered before the complaint is filed, making sure that the infringed works identified in the complaint are the works that were actually infringed and making sure that the registration certificates provided to the court by the copyright owner are for the works that were actually infringed.

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Not All Statements in eBay’s User Agreement Are Binding Promises

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that eBay’s User Agreement contains both informal descriptions of how eBay’s system works and legally enforceable promises.  Marshall Block, an eBay seller, filed a lawsuit against eBay.  Block argued that eBay’s Automatic Bidding system violates two statements made by eBay in its User Agreement.  eBay’s Automatic Bidding system automatically enters bids on behalf of the bidder until the maximum set by the bidder is reached. 

No federal law issues were involved in this case.  The federal court system exercised diversity jurisdiction, which occurs when the plaintiff pleads greater than $75,000 in damages and does not share state citizenship with any defendant.  The Ninth Circuit applied California state contract law to decide the case. 

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