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R.W. Beck, Inc. v. E3 Consulting, LLC

We affirm the judgment on the unfair-competition and unjust-enrichment claims because they are preempted by the Copyright Act. We affirm the judgment on the deceptive-trade-practices claim because Beck cannot establish that the alleged deceptive practice significantly impacted the public. As for the copyright claim, E3 first defends the favorable summary judgment by arguing on appeal (1) that most of the language at issue in the copyrighted Beck reports is not protected by copyright law because Beck took it from a third-party report that predated Beck’s copyrighted reports; and (2) that even if the language in Beck’s copyrighted reports was taken from earlier Beck reports, the language in those earlier reports was not protected because it had not been copyrighted and had entered the public domain. We reject these grounds for affirmance because Beck created genuine disputes of material fact by presenting evidence (1) that Beck did not take the language in its copyrighted reports from the third-party report relied upon by E3; and (2) that the copyrighted reports derived their language from earlier Beck reports and internal documents that were themselves copyrighted by Beck and whose language had not entered the public domain. E3 also defends the copyright summary judgment on the ground that the allegedly copied language cannot be protected by copyright law because it serves functional purposes and copyright protects only expression, not ideas. The district court apparently relied in part on this ground in granting summary judgment, but it did so sua sponte; E3 had not argued the point below. Although E3’s argument may be meritorious, we refrain from so deciding on this appeal, believing that Beck should be afforded the opportunity to respond to this argument in district court. We therefore reverse the summary judgment on the copyright claim and remand for further proceedings.

Beck also contends on appeal that the district court erred in denying its motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) to permit more discovery before acting on E3’s summary-judgment motion. But because of the grounds for our disposition of the various claims, we need not address the merits of this issue.

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