Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc.

Defendant ReDigi, Inc. and its founders, Defendants Larry Rudolph and John Ossenmacher,1 8 appeal from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Richard J. Sullivan, J.) in favor of Plaintiffs, Capitol Records, LLC, Capitol Christian Music Group, Inc., and Virgin Records IR Holdings, Inc. (“Plaintiffs”), finding copyright infringement. Defendants had created an Internet platform designed to enable the lawful resale, under the first sale doctrine, of lawfully purchased digital music files, and had hosted resales of such files on the platform. The district court concluded that, notwithstanding the “first sale” doctrine, codified in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 109(a), ReDigi’s Internet system version 1.0 infringed the Plaintiffs’ copyrights by enabling the resale of such digital files containing sound recordings of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted music. We agree with the district court that ReDigi infringed the Plaintiffs’ exclusive rights under 17 U.S.C. § 106(1) to reproduce their copyrighted works. We make no decision whether ReDigi also infringed the Plaintiffs’ exclusive rights under 17 U.S.C. § 106(3) to distribute their works.

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Overhauser v. Bell

Richard Bell brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against Vacuforce, LLC, accusing it of publishing his photograph of the Indianapolis skyline on its website without a license. Vacuforce hired attorney Paul Overhauser to defend it. The parties quickly settled, so the federal lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice.

That was not the end of the story. Overhauser then moved to recover attorney fees from plaintiff Bell. He argued that since the settlement produced a dismissal with prejudice, Vacuforce was the “prevailing party” for purposes of fees under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 505. The district court considered Overhauser’s motion frivolous and misleading. The court denied the motion and ordered two monetary sanctions against Overhauser: one under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and another under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Overhauser appeals both sanctions, but we affirm both of them.

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Wilson v. Dynatone Publishing Co.

(“[I]n copyright cases the discovery rule is a common‐law gloss.”). And, contrary to what Defendants argue, we have never held that mere registration, without more, is enough to put a reasonably diligent copyright owner on notice of an adverse claim. We join the Circuits that have rejected the Defendants’ reading of § 205(c).

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, the petition for rehearing is denied.

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Cambridge University Press v. Albert

This appeal requires us to decide whether the district court misinterpreted our mandate in an earlier appeal and misapplied the defense of fair use, 17 U.S.C. § 107, in a dispute between three academic publishers and Georgia State University about the University’s practice of distributing to students digital excerpts of copyrighted works without paying the publishers. After a bench trial, the district court ruled that the publishers established a prima facie case that 48 digital excerpts infringed their copyrights but that the University prevailed on an affirmative defense of fair use for 43 of those excerpts. The publishers appealed. We upheld the district court’s analysis of the first and fourth fair-use factors, including its finding that widespread unlicensed use of 31 excerpts for which licenses existed could cause substantial harm to the potential markets. But we reversed and remanded for the district court to correct specific errors in its analysis of fair use. One such error was the use of a mathematical formula to balance the four statutory fair-use factors. Another was the insufficient weight the district court gave to the severe threat of market substitution. On remand, the district court ruled that the University prevailed on its fair-use defense for 44 of the 48 excerpts. Contrary to our instructions, the district court again applied a mathematical formula to balance the factors. It also revisited its market-harm analysis for the 31 licensed excerpts and found that the threat of market harm supported fair use in all but six of the 48 instances. Although the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to reopen the record to allow the publishers to present new evidence about the availability of digital licenses, the district court misinterpreted our earlier decision and misapplied the statutory test of fair use. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand with instructions.

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Code Revision Commissioner v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc.

Today, we are presented with the question of whether the annotations contained in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), authored by the Georgia General Assembly and made an inextricable part of the official codification of Georgia’s laws, may be copyrighted by the State of Georgia. Answering this question means confronting profound and difficult issues about the nature of law in our society and the rights of citizens to have unfettered access to the legal edicts that govern their lives. After a thorough review of the law, and an examination of the annotations, we conclude that no valid copyright interest can be asserted in any part of the OCGA.

From the earliest day of the Republic, under federal copyright law, copyright interests have vested in the author of the work. Authorship, therefore, is central to many questions that arise under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. This case is no exception. In most states the “official” code is comprised of statutory text alone, and all agree that a state’s codification cannot be copyrighted because the authorship is ultimately attributable to the People. Conversely, all agree that annotations created by a private party generally can be copyrighted because the annotations are an original work created by a private publisher. But the annotations in the OCGA are not exactly like either of these two types of works. Rather, they fall somewhere in between -- their legal effect and ultimate authorship more indeterminate. To resolve this question, then, we reason by analogy, and drill down on the core attributes that make the OCGA annotations what they are -- namely an exercise of sovereign power.

The general rule that legislative codifications are uncopyrightable derives from an understanding of the nature of law and the basic idea that the People, as the reservoir of all sovereignty, are the source of our law. For purposes of the Copyright Act, this means that the People are the constructive authors of those official legal promulgations of government that represent an exercise of sovereign authority. And because they are the authors, the People are the owners of these works, meaning that the works are intrinsically public domain material and, therefore, uncopyrightable.

That the law itself, whether it takes the form of a legislative enactment or of a judicial opinion, is subject to the rule is clear and not contested. This is because these works represent the quintessential exercise of sovereign power. When a legislature enacts a law, or a court writes an opinion rendering an official interpretation of the law in a case or controversy, they are undisputedly speaking on behalf of the People, who are properly regarded as the author of the work. The task we face today is whether we should similarly treat Georgia’s entire official code, which expressly merges its statutes and their official annotations, as the sovereign expression of the People by their legislature, as public domain material.

To navigate the ambiguities surrounding how to characterize this work, we resort to first principles. Because our ultimate inquiry is whether a work is authored by the People, meaning whether it represents an articulation of the sovereign will, our analysis is guided by a consideration of those characteristics that are the hallmarks of law. In particular, we rely on the identity of the public officials who created the work, the authoritativeness of the work, and the process by which the work was created. These are critical markers. Where all three point in the direction that a work was made in the exercise of sovereign power -- which is to say where the official who created the work is entrusted with delegated sovereign authority, where the work carries authoritative weight, and where the work was created through the procedural channels in which sovereign power ordinarily flows -- it follows that the work would be attributable to the constructive authorship of the People, and therefore uncopyrightable.

The question is a close one -- and important considerations of public policy are at stake on either side -- but, at the end of the day, we conclude that the annotations in the OCGA are sufficiently law-like so as to be properly regarded as a sovereign work. Like the statutory text itself, the annotations are created by the duly constituted legislative authority of the State of Georgia. Moreover, the annotations clearly have authoritative weight in explicating and establishing the meaning and effect of Georgia’s laws. Furthermore, the procedures by which the annotations were incorporated bear the hallmarks of legislative process, namely bicameralism and presentment. In short, the annotations are legislative works created by Georgia’s legislators in the exercise of their legislative authority.

As a consequence, we conclude that the People are the ultimate authors of the annotations. As a work of the People the annotations are inherently public domain material and therefore uncopyrightable. Because we conclude that no copyright can be held in the annotations, we have no occasion to address the parties’ other arguments regarding originality and fair use.

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Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin

The panel vacated in part the district court’s judgment after a jury trial in favor of the defendants and remanded for a new trial in a copyright infringement suit alleging that Led Zeppelin copied “Stairway to Heaven” from the song “Taurus,” written by Spirit band member Randy Wolfe.

The jury found that plaintiff Michael Skidmore owned the copyright to “Taurus,” that defendants had access to “Taurus,” and that the two songs were not substantially similar under the extrinsic test.

The panel held that certain of the district court’s jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial. First, in connection with the extrinsic test for substantial similarity, the district court prejudicially erred by failing to instruct the jury that the selection and arrangement of unprotectable musical elements are protectable. Second, the district court prejudicially erred in its instructions on originality. The panel concluded that the district court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on the inverse ratio rule, but such an instruction might be appropriate on remand.

The panel further held that the scope of copyright protection for an unpublished musical work under the Copyright Act of 1909 is defined by the deposit copy because copyright protection under the 1909 Act did not attach until either publication or registration. Therefore, the district court correctly ruled that sound recordings of “Taurus” as performed by Spirit could not be used to prove substantial similarity.

Addressing evidentiary issues, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing recordings of “Taurus” to be played for the purpose of demonstrating access. The district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to exclude expert testimony on the basis of a conflict of interest.

In light of its disposition, the panel vacated the district court’s denial of defendants’ motions for attorneys’ fees and costs and remanded those issues as well.

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SoundExchange, Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Board and Librarian of Congress

This case concerns the rates paid by webcasters to license copyrights in digital sound recordings. Webcasters stream digital sound recordings to listeners over the Internet. A so-called “noninteractive” webcasting service chooses the recordings to play for listeners, whereas an “interactive” service allows an individual listener to select music on demand.

Congress established a statutory copyright license for noninteractive webcasters in the Copyright Act. The statutory license enables noninteractive webcasters to transmit recordings by paying a standard royalty rate rather than negotiating licensing agreements with copyright holders. Every five years, the Copyright Royalty Board sets the standard rates noninteractive webcasters must pay to play recordings over the Internet under the statutory license.

This appeal raises challenges to the Board’s most recent rate determination on a number of grounds. We sustain the Board’s determination in all respects.

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Spinelli v. National Football League

Plaintiffs-Appellants are sports photographers who make a living taking and licensing photographs of National Football League events. They seek to recover damages on copyright, contract, and tort theories of liability after Defendants-Appellees allegedly exploited thousands of Plaintiffs’ photographs without a license and without compensating Plaintiffs in any way. Plaintiffs also bring an antitrust challenge, alleging that the NFL and Associated Press conspired to restrain trade in the market for commercial licenses of NFL event photographs. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Robert W. Sweet, J.) dismissed all of the claims at issue here for failure to state a claim. We AFFIRM IN PART, VACATE IN PART, and REMAND for further proceeding.

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Tanksley v. Daniels

Clayton Prince Tanksley is an actor and producer who lives in Philadelphia. In 2005, he created a three-episode television pilot, Cream, for which he received a copyright. In 2015, Fox Television debuted a new series, Empire, from award-winning producer and director Lee Daniels. Shortly thereafter, Tanksley filed suit, claiming that Empire infringed on his copyright of Cream. The District Court found no substantial similarity between the two shows and dismissed Tanksley’s complaint. For the reasons stated below, we will affirm.

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Cobbler Nevada, LLC v. Gonzalez

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of an action under the Copyright Act, alleging direct and contributory infringement of plaintiff’s copyrights in a film. 

Plaintiff alleged unauthorized downloading and distribution of the film through peer-to-peer BitTorrent networks. The panel held that the bare allegation that the defendant was the registered subscriber of an Internet Protocol address associated with infringing activity was insufficient to state a claim for direct or contributory infringement. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant under 17 U.S.C. § 505.

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