Merchandising Missteps Lead to Willful Infringement and CMI Removal Claims

Music merchandising company Live Nation admitted to copyright infringement by using photographer Glen Friedman’s photographs of the hip-hop group Run-DMC on t-shirts and a calendar without Friedman’s authorization.  On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the issues in Friedman’s lawsuit against Live Nation involved whether the evidence was sufficient to establish that Live Nation willfully infringed Friedman’s copyrights and to establish that Live Nation violated §1202(b) by knowingly removing copyright management information (CMI) from Friedman’s photos.  There was also an issue of whether the number of retailers who purchased infringing merchandise from Live Nation could be used to calculate statutory damages.

The district court granted summary judgment to Live Nation on the willful infringement and CMI issues.  The district court ruled that Friedman could recover one statutory damages award per work infringed, rejecting Friedman’s damages calculation based on the number of retailers.  The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s rulings on the willful infringement and CMI issues, but upheld the district court’s ruling on the statutory damages issue.

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No Registration Required for DMCA Copyright Management Information Claim

Playboy sued Mediatakeout.com (MTO) for copyright infringement and violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  Playboy owns the exclusive license to 3 photos of entertainer Azealia Banks.  Two registered photos are nude photos.  One unregistered photo is a non-nude photo.  Playboy alleges that MTO removed Playboy’s watermark and applied MTO’s own watermark to the photos before publishing the photos on MTO’s website.

MTO moved to dismiss Playboy’s complaint for failure to state a cause of action.  MTO argued that it had a license from Playboy to publish the photos, that MTO’s use of the photos was a fair use and that Playboy could not file suit on the unregistered photo.  The district court denied MTO’s motion to dismiss.

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Haiti Quake Photos Case Offers Multiple Intriguing Issues and $1.2M Jury Award

In late November 2013, a jury awarded Daniel Morel $1.2M against Agence France Presse (AFP) and Getty Images for willfully infringing photos Morel took in Haiti on January 12, 2010, immediately after the earthquake that demolished the country.  Morel, a noted photographer, swiftly contacted AFP and Getty regarding removing his photos from their websites after he found them posted there.  

AFP actually initiated the lawsuit by bringing a declaratory judgment that it did not infringe Morel’s copyrights in his Haiti earthquake photos.  This case presents a number of intriguing issues, including AFP’s and Getty’s claims that they received a license under the Twitter terms of use, AFP’s and Getty’s claims that they were third party beneficiaries of Morel’s Twitter contract, Morel’s contributory infringement and vicarious liability claims against some of the licensees, Morel’s DMCA copyright management information claim, Getty’s claim that it was protected by a DMCA safe-harbor, Morel’s willful copyright infringement claims against AFP and Getty and Morel’s Lanham Act false representation and false advertising claims.  Morel survived motions to dismiss and summary judgment motions brought by AFP and Getty on the way to his jury verdict.  This post discusses why some issues were dismissed, while others remained in the case to be decided by the jury.

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Bruce Lee Estate Licensees Allege Unauthorized Distribution of Documentaries by Amazon and Others

Film companies from Australia and New Zealand filed suit in U.S. federal court, Western District of Washington, alleging copyright infringement and violation of the integrity of copyright management information for the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of films about Bruce Lee.

Facts alleged.  The copyrighted films at issue are The Intercepting Fist, owned and distributed by plaintiff Phoenix Films Proprietary, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, owned and distributed by plaintiff Legacy Productions Limited and Bruce Lee:  Path of the Dragon, owned and distributed by Warrior Within Proprietary Limited.  Each of these films is a unique documentary and contains behind the scenes and rare footage of Bruce Lee.  These films were produced with the cooperation of and licenses from the Estate of Bruce Lee.  Each of these films contains copyright notices in the credits and packaging of authorized products that were disregarded by the defendants.  Each has a U.S. copyright registration.

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