Alliance for Water Efficiency v. Fryer

James Fryer and the Alliance for Water Efficiency set out to produce a study about drought. Unfortunately, the collaboration ran dry, and the Alliance sued Fryer under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq. The lawsuit proved to be far less troublesome than the ensuing settlement. While the parties were supposed to part ways and publish their own reports, they instead find themselves in the fourth year of protracted litigation.

The parties’ disputes center on their obligations under the settlement. Years ago the district court ordered Fryer to turn over certain data sets to the Alliance and refrain from acknowledging a number of organizations in his study. On appeal we reversed solely on the acknowledgment issue. Alliance for Water Efficiency v. Fryer, 808 F.3d 1153 (7th Cir. 2015). Fryer then returned to the district court and sought restitution for injuries caused by the court’s erroneous injunction. He also moved for attorney’s fees under § 505 of the Copyright Act for having prevailed in the first appeal. A magistrate judge denied both motions and Fryer appealed.

We affirm. Fryer does not present genuine claims for restitution; he seeks to relitigate unrelated claims for breach of the settlement. His request for attorney’s fees is also unsuccessful because he did not prevail on the Alliance’s copyright claim as § 505 requires. The parties compromised their positions, obtained some relief, and walked away from the underlying lawsuit. At no time has any court entered judgment on the Alliance’s copyright claim.

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Wilson v. Dynatone Publishing Co.

Plaintiffs appeal from the dismissal of their suit by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Paul A. Engelmayer, District Judge). Plaintiffs John Wilson, Charles Still, and Terrance Stubbs are former members of a musical group called “Sly Slick & Wicked.” They claim authorship of, and ownership of the renewal term copyrights in, the musical composition and sound recording of a song entitled “Sho’ Nuff,” pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 304(a)(3)(A) & (B). Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that Defendants, Dynatone Publishing Company, UMG Recordings, Inc., and Unichappell Music, Inc., collected royalties from the sampling of Sho’ Nuff in 2013, during the renewal terms, and that Plaintiffs were entitled to those royalty payments. The district court granted Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for untimeliness. We AFFIRM the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ state law accounting claim and otherwise VACATE the judgment and REMAND to the district court.

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Fahmy v. Jay-Z

The panel affirmed the district court’s grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of rapper Jay-Z and other defendants on copyright infringement claims brought by the heir to Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdy’s copyright in a 1957 arrangement of the song Khosara.

Jay-Z used a sample from the arrangement in the background music to his hit single Big Pimpin’.

The district court held that the heir, Osama Ahmed Fahmy, lacked standing to bring the copyright claims. First, the district court held that Egyptian law recognizes a transferable right of “adaptation,” such that when Fahmy transferred “all” of his economic rights to Mohsen Mohammed Jaber in a 2002 agreement, the transfer included the right to create derivative works adapted from Khosara. The district court concluded that the right of adaptation is an economic right under Egyptian law, not an inalienable moral right. Second, the district court held that the conveyance of rights contained in the 2002 agreement complied with the requirements of Article 149, the Egyptian law governing the transfer of economic rights. Accordingly, the 2002 agreement successfully conveyed a right of adaptation of Khosara to Jaber. Third, a reservation of rights found at the end of the 2002 agreement referred to the right to receive royalties, and thus did not confer standing on Fahmy to bring a claim of copyright infringement.

Affirming, the panel concluded (1) that Egyptian law recognizes a transferable economic right to prepare derivative works; (2) that the moral rights Fahmy retained by operation of Egyptian law were not enforceable in U.S. federal court; and (3) that, even if they were, Fahmy had not complied with the compensation requirement of Egyptian law, which did not provide for his requested money damages, and which provided for only injunctive relief from an Egyptian court. The panel held that the district court properly interpreted the 2002 agreement as conveying to Jaber the economic right to create derivative works. In addition, the fact that Fahmy retained the right to royalties did not give him standing to sue for copyright infringement.

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LimeCoral, Ltd. v. CareerBuilder, LLC

Graphics-design firm LimeCoral, Ltd., sued the job website CareerBuilder, LLC, for breach of copyright and breach of an alleged oral agreement to pay LimeCoral for each annual renewal of a graphic design that LimeCoral prepared for a job posting on CareerBuilder’s website. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of CareerBuilder, finding that CareerBuilder had an irrevocable, implied license to use LimeCoral’s designs that was not conditioned upon any agreement to pay LimeCoral renewal fees. We affirm.

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Cortes-Ramos v. Sony Corp. of America

Thus, the only material alteration in the parties' legal relationship concerning the Copyright Act arises from a ruling regarding the forum in which Cortés-Ramos' Copyright Act claims must be heard. But, the Copyright Act -- unlike the Federal Arbitration Act, see 9 U.S.C. § 2 -- reflects no congressional policy favoring or disfavoring arbitration of claims. There thus has been no "material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties in a manner which Congress sought to promote" when it enacted § 505 of the Copyright Act. Sole, 551 U.S. at 82; see also Heritage Capital Corp. v. Christie's, Inc., No. 3:16-CV-3404- D, 2018 WL 398202, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 12, 2018) (holding that Defendant did not qualify under § 505 of the Copyright Act as a prevailing party because compelling arbitration was a procedural victory that did not materially alter the legal relationship between the parties).

We therefore reverse the order of the District Court granting attorney's fees to the defendants.

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Naruto v. Slater

Affirming the district court’s dismissal of claims brought by a monkey, the panel held that the animal had constitutional standing but lacked statutory standing to claim copyright infringement of photographs known as the “MonkeySelfies.” The panel held that the complaint included facts sufficient to establish Article III standing because it alleged that the monkeywas the author and owner of the photographs and had suffered concrete and particularized economic harms. The panel concluded that the monkey’s Article III standing was not dependent on the sufficiency of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., as a guardian or “next friend.” The panel held that the monkey lacked statutory standing because the Copyright Act does not expressly authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits.

The panel granted appellees’ request for an award of attorneys’ fees on appeal. Concurring in part, Judge N.R. Smith wrote that the appeal should be dismissed and the district court’s judgment on the merits should be vacated because the federal courts lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. Disagreeing with the majority’s conclusion that next-friend standing is nonjurisdictional, Judge Smith wrote that PETA’s failure to meet the requirements for next-friend standing removed jurisdiction of the court.

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Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc.

This copyright case returns to us after a second jury trial, this one focusing on the defense of fair use. Oracle America, Inc. (“Oracle”) filed suit against Google Inc. (“Google”)1 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Google’s unauthorized use of 37 packages of Oracle’s Java application programming interface (“API packages”) in its Android operating system infringed Oracle’s patents and copyrights.

At the first trial, the jury found that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights in the Java Standard Edition platform, but deadlocked on the question of whether Google’s copying was a fair use.2 After the verdict, however, the district court found that the API packages were not copyrightable as a matter of law and entered judgment for Google. Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., 872 F. Supp. 2d 974 (N.D. Cal. 2012). Oracle appealed that determination to this court, and we reversed, finding that declaring code and the structure, sequence, and organization (“SSO”) of the Java API packages are entitled to copyright protection. Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., 750 F.3d 1339, 1348 (Fed. Cir. 2014). We remanded with instructions to reinstate the jury’s infringement verdict and for further proceedings on Google’s fair use defense and, if appropriate, on damages. Id. at 1381.

Google subsequently filed a petition for certiorari on the copyrightability determination. The Supreme Court called for the views of the Solicitor General, who expressed agreement with our determination and recommended denying review. The Supreme Court denied certiorari in 2015. Google Inc. v. Oracle Am., Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2887 (2015) (Mem.).

At the second jury trial, Google prevailed on its fair use defense. After the jury verdict, the district court denied Oracle’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) and entered final judgment in favor of Google. Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., No. C 10-03561, 2016 WL 3181206 (N.D. Cal. June 8, 2016) (“Order Denying JMOL”); Final Judgment, Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., No. 3:10-cv-3561 (N.D. Cal. June 8, 2016), ECF No. 1989. Oracle filed a renewed motion for JMOL and separately moved for a new trial. The district court denied both motions in a single order. Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc., No. C 10-03561, 2016 WL 5393938 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 27, 2016) (“Order Denying Renewed JMOL/New Trial”). Consistent with these determinations, no damages verdict was rendered.

Oracle now appeals from the district court’s final judgment and its decisions denying Oracle’s motions for JMOL and motion for a new trial. Google cross-appeals from the final judgment purportedly to “preserv[e] its claim that the declarations/SSO are not protected by copyright law,” but advances no argument for why this court can or should revisit our prior decision on copyrightability. Cross-Appellant Br. 83.

Because we conclude that Google’s use of the Java API packages was not fair as a matter of law, we reverse the district court’s decisions denying Oracle’s motions for JMOL and remand for a trial on damages. We also dismiss Google’s cross-appeal.

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Williams v. Gaye

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment after a jury trial, ruling that plaintiffs’ song “Blurred Lines” infringed defendants’ copyright in Marvin Gaye’s song “Got To Give It Up.” The panel held that “Got To Give It Up” was entitled to broad copyright protection because musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression. The panel accepted, without deciding, the merits of the district court’s ruling that the scope of the defendants’ copyright was limited, under the Copyright Act of 1909, to the sheet music deposited with the Copyright Office, and did not extend to sound recordings.

The panel held that the district court’s order denying summary judgment was not reviewable after a full trial on the merits.

The panel held that the district court did not err in denying a new trial. The district court properly instructed the jury that there is no scienter requirement for copyright infringement and that it must find both access and substantial similarity. The district court did not erroneously instruct the jury to consider unprotectable elements of “Got To Give It Up.” The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting expert testimony. In addition, the verdict was not against the clear weight of the evidence because there was not an absolute absence of evidence of extrinsic and intrinsic similarity between the two songs.

The panel held that the district court’s award of actual damages and infringers’ profits and its running royalty were proper.

Reversing in part, the panel held that the district court erred in overturning the jury’s general verdict in favor of certain parties because the defendants waived any challenge to the consistency of the jury’s general verdicts. In addition, there was no duty to reconcile the verdicts. The district court erred in finding one party secondarily liable for vicarious infringement.

The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendants’ motion for attorneys’ fees under § 505 of the Copyright Act or in apportioning costs among the parties.

Dissenting, Judge Nguyen wrote that “Blurred Lines” and “Got To Give It Up” were not objectively similar as a matter of law under the extrinsic test because they differed in melody, harmony, and rhythm, and the majority’s refusal to compare the two works improperly allowed the defendants to copyright a musical style.

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Great Minds v. FedEx Office & Print Services, Inc.

Appeal from a judgment entered in the Eastern District of New York (Hurley, J.) dismissing this copyright infringement action filed by Plaintiff‐Appellant Great Minds against Defendant‐Appellee FedEx Office and Print Services, Inc. (“FedEx”). FedEx allegedly violated Great Minds’ copyright by reproducing Great Minds’ educational materials at the request of school districts, which sought to use the materials for noncommercial purposes under Great Minds’ non‐exclusive public license. The public license does not explicitly address whether licensees may engage third parties to provide commercial services that assist the licensees in furthering their own noncommercial uses. We hold that a copyright holder must state in its license any limitation it might wish to impose precluding such an engagement. We decline to infer any such limitation in Great Minds’ public license, and therefore AFFIRM the District Court’s judgment.   AFFIRMED.

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Ventura Content, Ltd. v. Motherless, Inc.

The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendants and its order denying attorneys’ fees in a copyright case.

The plaintiff, a creator and distributor of pornographic movies, alleged that infringing clips were stored and displayed on defendants’ website.

The panel held that the defendants qualified for the safe harbor defense set forth in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The material on the website was stored at the direction of users, who decided what to post. The defendants did not have actual or apparent knowledge that the clips were infringing, and they expeditiously removed the infringing material once they received actual or red flag notice of the infringement. The defendants also did not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to infringing activity that they had the right and ability to control. In addition, the defendants had a policy of excluding repeat infringers from the website. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not exercising supplemental jurisdiction over a California state law claim. The district court also did not abuse its discretion in denying an award of attorneys’ fees to defendants.

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