In 2005, Tanksley, a Philadelphia actor and producer, 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. Tanksley sued, claiming that Empire infringed on his copyright of Cream. The district court found no substantial similarity between the two shows and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. Superficial similarities notwithstanding, Cream and Empire are not substantially similar as a matter of law. The shared premise of the shows—an African-American, male record executive— is unprotectable. These characters fit squarely within the class of “prototypes” to which copyright protection has never extended. Considering the protectable elements of Cream, “no reasonable jury, properly instructed, could find that the two works are substantially similar.” View "Tanksley v. Daniels" on Justia Law
Leonard takes photographs of stem cells using electron microscopes. Only a few photographers engage in this highly technical type of photography. The images first appear in black and white, and Leonard uses his “artistic judgment” to enhance the photos in color. Leonard created the images at issue in the 1990s but did not register them with the Copyright Office until 2007, when he planned to file suit. Stemtech “formulates” and sells nutritional supplement products through thousands of distributors. In 2006, Stemtech contacted Leonard about using Image for its internal magazine and its website. Stemtech declined to license the image for website use because the price was too high but used the image twice in its magazine. Leonard billed Stemtech $950 but was only paid $500. Stemtech then used the images without a license in its other promotional materials, including websites, In 2007, Leonard discovered his images on numerous Stemtech-affiliated websites. He took screenshots of and archived the webpages and retained copies of emails he sent to the contacts on various sites. When Stemtech refused Leonard’s requests, Leonard filed suit for copyright infringement. A jury returned a $1.6 million verdict in Leonard’s favor. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to various rulings, but vacated the district court’s denial of Leonard’s request for pre-judgment interest. View "Leonard v. Stemtech Int'l, Inc" on Justia Law
Brownstein and Lindsay worked at LSDI, a direct mailing list company. In 1993 Lindsay began developing rules for categorizing names by ethnicity. Lindsay enlisted Brownstein to create computer programs that did everything from rewriting names into proper data format to turning the rules into computer code. The combined system of Lindsay’s rules and Brownstein’s computer code was called the LCID. Lindsay received a copyright registration for the rules in 1996, entitled “Ethnic Determinant System — Knowledge and Rule/Exception Basis,” including a copy of Brownstein’s programs as a “deposit copy” for the registration, 17 U.S.C. 407(a) and referencing associated “computer process” and “codes.” Lindsay listed herself as the only author. She gave Brownstein a copy of the registrations. He claims that he never reviewed them. Subsequently, LSDI demanded that Lindsay turnover the copyright registration. Lindsay and Brownstein left LSDI in 1997. Lindsay handled all business affairs and, over the next several years, executed several agreements to form new business entities to promote and transfer ownership of the LCID. There were several lawsuits with LSDI. In 2009, Brownstein left on bad terms, filed an oppressed shareholder lawsuit, and sought his own copyright registrations. He then sought a declaratory judgment of joint authorship of LCID under the Copyright Act. The district court found the claim time-barred and insufficient on the merits. The Third Circuit remanded, holding that an authorship claim accrues when a plaintiff’s authorship has been “expressly repudiated” and that courts have no authority to cancel copyright registrations. View "Brownstein v. Lindsay" on Justia Law
In 2006 the photographer took a picture of radio personalities for use in a magazine. An employee of the radio station scanned the picture, cutting off credit lines, and posted it on the internet. After the photographer's attorney contacted the station, the personalities made disparaging remarks about the photographer on the air. The photographer alleged violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 1201, the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101, and defamation under New Jersey law. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A cause of action under the DMCA may arise whenever the types of information listed in the statute and conveyed in connection with copies of a work, including in digital form, is falsified or removed, regardless of the form in which that information is conveyed. The fact that the photographer's name appeared in a printed gutter credit near the image rather than in an "automated copyright protection or management system" does not remove it from the protection of the Act. The trial court erred in finding "fair use" in the station's commercial use of a commercial photographer's copyrighted image. The photographer was given inadequate opportunity for discovery on the defamation claim.
In 1991 defendant left his job with an insurance brokerage for one with competitor and took two binders of print material for use by the competitor. After discovering the infringement, the employer filed suit in 2005 under 17 U.S.C. 101. There were no actual damages; the court awarded $16,561,230 from the competitor and $2,297,397 from the employee, representing about 70 percent of the competitor's profits, and 75 percent of the employee's commissions. On remand, the district court found that the award was not excessive and awarded interest: $4,112,859 against the competitor and $570,542 against the employee. The Third Circuit affirmed. The amount does not "shock the conscience" and, although the statute does not refer to pre-judgment interest, the award is consistent with the Copyright Act. The court rejected an argument that interest should be calculated from the time the infringement was discovered. The date of a claim's accrual is not changed by tolling of the limitations period.