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Copyright Case Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff, the author of “Point Break Live!”, filed suit against defendants, asserting claims for copyright infringement, breach of contract, and tortious interference with contract. At issue on appeal was whether an unauthorized work that makes “fair use” of its source material may itself be protected by copyright. The court held, for substantially the reasons stated by the district court that, if the creator of an unauthorized work stays within the bounds of fair use and adds sufficient originality, she may claim protection under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 103, for her original contributions. The court also rejected defendant’s challenges to the district court’s jury charge. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View “Keeling v. Hars” on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, authors of published books under copyright, filed suit against Google for copyright infringement. Google, acting without permission of rights holders, has made digital copies of tens of millions of books, including plaintiffs’, through its Library Project and its Google books project. The district court concluded that Google’s actions constituted fair use under 17 U.S.C. 107. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Google. The court concluded that: (1) Google’s unauthorized digitizing of copyright-protected works, creation of a search functionality, and display of snippets from those works are non-infringing fair uses. The purpose of the copying is highly transformative, the public display of text is limited, and the revelations do not provide a significant market substitute for the protected aspects of the originals. Google’s commercial nature and profit motivation do not justify denial of fair use. (2) Google’s provision of digitized copies to the libraries that supplied the books, on the understanding that the libraries will use the copies in a manner consistent with the copyright law, also does not constitute infringement. Nor, on this record, is Google a contributory infringer. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View “Authors Guild v. Google, Inc.” on Justia Law

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This appeal involves a dispute over the copyright in the musical composition “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” Plaintiffs filed suit seeking a declaration that either a notice of termination served on EMI in 2007 or another such notice served in 2012 will, upon becoming effective, terminate EMI’s rights in the Song. The district court granted summary judgment to EMI, holding that its rights in the Song will subsist through the entire remaining copyright term – which, under current law, is scheduled to expire in 2029 – pursuant to a 1951 agreement that plaintiffs are powerless to terminate. The court concluded, however, that EMI owns its rights in the Song not under the 1951 Agreement but instead under a subsequent contract executed in 1981; and that the 2007 Termination Notice will terminate the 1981 Agreement in 2016.  Accordingly, the court concluded that plaintiffs are entitled to a declaratory judgment in their favor. The court reversed and remanded. View “Baldwin v. EMI Feist Catalog, Inc.” on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, alleging, inter alia, that defendants infringed “Bikram’s Copyrighted Works through substantial use of Bikram’s Copyrighted Works in and as part of Defendants’ offering of yoga classes.” The district court granted defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment as to the claim of copyright infringement of the “Sequence.” The parties settled all remaining claims. At issue on appeal was whether a sequence of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises developed by Bikram Choudhury and described in his 1979 book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, is entitled to copyright protection. The court concluded that the Sequence is an idea, process, or system designed to improve health. Copyright protects only the expression of this idea – the words and pictures used to describe the Sequence – and not the idea of the Sequence itself. Because the Sequence is an unprotectible idea, it is also ineligible for copyright protection as a “compilation” or “choreographic work.” Therefore, the court concluded that the district court properly granted partial summary judgment in favor of defendants because the Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright. The court affirmed the judgment. View “Bikram’s Yoga College v. Evolation Yoga” on Justia Law

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DC filed suit against defendant, producer of replicas of the Batmobile, alleging, among other things, causes of action for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition arising from defendant’s manufacture and sale of the Batmobile replicas. The court concluded that the Batmobile, as it appears in the comic books, television series, and motion picture, is entitled to copyright protection. The court also concluded that the Batmobile character is the property of DC and that defendant infringed upon DC’s property rights when he produced unauthorized derivative works of the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1966 television show and the 1989 motion picture. Finally, the district court did not err when it ruled as a matter of law that defendant could not assert a laches defense to DC’s trademark infringement claim because defendant willfully infringed on DC’s trademarks. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for DC on the copyright and trademark infringement claims. View “DC Comics v. Towle” on Justia Law