Category Archives: Copyright

May The Look and Feel of the Tetris Video Game be Protected by The Copyright Act?

Is the look and feel of the Tetris video game distinguishable from the ideas of the game and therefore protectable? In Tetris Holding, LLC v. XIO Interactive, Inc., No. 09-6115 (D.N.J. May 30, 2012), the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey answered this question in the affirmative.

In that case, Plaintiff, Tetris Holdings, LLC sued XIO Interactive, Inc. (“Defendant”) for the Defendant’s marketing of the game called “Mino.”  Plaintiff alleged among other things, copyright infringement and trade dress infringement because the game copied many copyrightable aspects of its Tetris game.  Tetris identified the following fourteen (14) elements that were allegedly copied:

  1. Seven Tetrimino playing pieces made up of four  equally-sized square joined at their sides;
  2. The visual delineation of individual blocks that comprise each Tetrimino piece and the display of their borders;
  3. The bright, distinct colors used for each of the Tetrimino pieces;
  4. A tall, rectangular playfield (or matrix), 10 blocks wide and 20 blocks tall;
  5. The appearance of Tetriminos moving from the top of the playfield to its bottom;
  6. The way the Tetrimino pieces appear to move and rotate in the playfield;
  7. The small display near the playfield that shows the next playing piece to appear in the playfield;
  8. The particular starting orientation of the Tetriminos, both at the top of the screen and as shown in the “next piece” display;
  9. The display of a “shadow” piece beneath the Tetriminos as they fall;
  10. The color change when the Tetriminos enter lock-down mode;
  11. When a horizontal line fills across the playfield with blocks, the line disappears, and the remaining pieces appear to consolidate downward;
  12. The appearance of individual blocks automatically filling in the playfield from the bottom to the top when the game is over;
  13. The display of “garbage lines” with at least one missing block in random order; and
  14. The screen layout in multiplayer versions with the player’s matrix appearing most prominently on the screen and the opponents’ matrixes appearing smaller than the player’s matrix and to the
    side of the player’s matrix.

Id. at 5.

Defendant conceded that it blatantly copied the look and feel of Tetris so that it could make a similar game for the iPhone.  However, Defendant alleged that it was careful not to copy protectable aspects of the game.  Instead, it copied unprotectable elements such as the “rules, function, and expression essential to the game play.” Id. at 7.  Defendant argued that “not only are the ideas of Tetris (or the rules of the game) not protectable, but neither re the ‘functional aspects’ of the game or expressive elements relating to the game’s function or play.” Id. at 17.  However, the Court disagreed and stated that Defendant “cannot protect expression inseparable from either game rules or game function.” Id.

In its holding, the Court noted that the Plaintiff was conflating the doctrine of merger and the related doctrine known as “scenes à faire.”  The Court explained that merger exists when an idea and the expression of that idea become inseparable. Id. at 14.  In that situation, copying is allowed to prevent a copyright holder from obtaining a monopoly over that idea.  The Court went on to discuss how expressions that are so associated with a particular idea (scenes à faire) are also unprotectable by copyright law.  Id. at 15.  In Tetris, the Court felt that neither doctrine applied.

Evaluating screenshots of both games side by side revealed just how similar the two games appeared.
The Court stated:

Without being told which is which, a common user could not decipher between the two games.  Any differences between the two are slight and insignificant.  If one has to find
distinctions only at a granular level, then the works are likely to be substantially similar.
Reviewing the videos of the game play bolsters this conclusion as it is apparent that the overall look and feel of the two games is identical. There is such similarity between the visual expression of Tetris and Mino that it is akin to literal copying.

Id. at 26-27.

Ultimately, the Court granted summary judgment for Tetris Holding, LLC, as to the copyright infringement and trade dress infringement claims.   

What Are The Repercussions For Sites That Facilitate Internet Music Piracy?

Would a person walk out of a store and take a CD without having paid for it?  If so, we might not only conclude that they are a shoplifter, but also someone who has committed theft of copyrighted intellectual property.  Many individuals commit the equivalent of the latter kind of theft by the illegal download of a digital file of a recorded song. File sharing software makers such as LimeWire, Napster and Kazaa have made it easy for users to easily commit this offense by a click of a mouse.  However, beware; there are consequences for sites that enable this sort of conduct.

In 2006, The Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA” or the “association”) filed a lawsuit on behalf of its member music labels against LimeWire, claiming that the music industry had lost a lot of money because LimeWire’s P2P software enabled users to share and make use of 11,000 copyrighted songs without paying a fee. The case was heard by the United States District Court, Southern District of New York. In 2010, the court ruled in favor of RIAA issuing a Permanent Injunction. RIAA, et al. v. Lime Wire, LLC, et al, 06 Civ. 05936 (Oct. 26 2010).  In evaluating whether an injunction was warranted the Court balanced four (4) elements:

1) irreparable injury;

2) whether or not there is an adequate remedy at law;

3) consideration of the balance of  hardships between the parties; and

4) whether the public interest would be disserved by the injunction

Id. at 5.

The Court concluded that RIAA faced irreparable harm because “it is virtually certain that [RIAA] will be entitled to an enormous damage award [] that will far exceed Lime Wire’s ability to pay.” Id. at 6.  Under the Copyright Act, a plaintiff is entitled to statutory damages from $750-$150,000, depending upon the circumstances of the infringement. Id. at 6; See 17 U.S.C. § 504(a)(2)-(c).

The Court found that a permanent injunction in addition to damages was necessary since the compensation for damages would only satisfy past infringement, not future infringement. Id. at 8.  The Court found that LimeWire’s widespread dissemination of its software left RIAA vulnerable to ongoing infringement by users and that this far outweighed any hardship to LimeWire by the injunction. Id. at 8.

Although the Court agreed that LimeWire induced copyright infringement, it did not agree with RIAA’s position on damages.  RIAA believed that it was owed the statutory allotment ($750-$150,000) per download, per song. Id. at 6-7.  That would have amounted to a penalty well beyond LimeWire’s resources. Id. at 6.  Ultimately, in May 2011, LimeWire made its settlement offer, and the case settled for $105 million in damages.

Businesses should take heed to the permanent injunction issued against LimeWire and the subsequent settlement amount of the lawsuit.  The issue of music piracy is serious and the music industry is being all the more active in fighting against copyright infringement.

Comments/Questions: gdn@gdnlaw.com

© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

Should Appropriation Artists Be Protected By Fair Use?

Appropriation art, which involves an artist purposefully copying the work of another, has become a popular art form. But is it legal? The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York recently faced that question and determined whether appropriators are entitled to use the defense of fair use against a claim of copyright infringement. Cariou v. Prince, 784 F.Supp. 2d 337 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).

The plaintiff in that case, professional photographer Patrick Cariou (“Cariou”), had spent time in Jamaica over the course of six years. After gaining the trust of the Rastafarians, he had been permitted to take their portraits. In 2000, Cariou published a book of his photographs. The book contained those portraits as well as landscape photos he had taken around Jamaica. He testified that he was the sole copyright holder of the images that appeared in his book.

The defendant, Richard Prince (“Prince”), was a well-known “appropriation artist” who had shown his work at several museums. Appropriation art deliberately copies images and presents them in a new version or context. During an exhibit at a hotel in St. Barts between December 2007 and February 2008, Prince showed a collage entitled “Canal Zone (2007)” which included 35 photographs that had been taken from Cariou’s book. Prince painted over some portions of the photos. Some were used in their entirety, while others were only partially used. Prince intended to use “Canal Zone (2007)” as a means of introducing characters he intended to use in a planned series of artworks. Cariou eventually claimed that Prince had infringed on his copyright, but Prince asserted that his works were protected by the defense of fair use.

Cariou possessed undisputed ownership of valid copyright in the photos, which courts have held to be a copyrightable subject matter for more than 100 years. Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53 (1884). The Court then considered whether Prince’s use of Cariou’s copyrighted work should be protected as a type of fair use. When determining whether a particular use of a copyrighted work qualifies as fair use, courts will consider four factors:

1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 

3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 

4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

17 U.S.C. §107.

First, the Court considered the purpose and character of Prince’s use of the photos. It found its transformative content to be “minimal at best,” its purpose to be “substantially commercial, and interpreted Prince’s failure to obtain permission (and the co-defendant Gagosian Gallery’s failure to inquire as to whether Prince had obtained permission) to constitute bad faith. Cariou at 350-1. Thus, it determined that the first prong weighed heavily against a finding of fair use. Second, the Court found that Cariou’s photos were highly original and creative (as opposed to factual or informational). Thus, the Court held that the use of such works without permission also weighs against fair use. Id. at 352.

Third, the Court considered the amount and substantiality of the portion of Cariou’s photos used in Prince’s works. It found that, in the majority of his works, Prince appropriated central figures that went to the very heart of Cariou’s works, and that this factor also weighed heavily against a finding of fair use. Id. Finally, the Court found the fourth factor to also weigh against fair use because Prince’s secondary use “unfairly damaged the original market for [Cariou’s] [p]hotos and, if widespread, would likely destroy any identifiable derivative market for [them].” Id. at 353. Because none of the four factors considered supported fair use, the Court found that the defendants were not entitled to fair use as a defense. Id.

Prince is appealing the Court’s decision. This case may have a significant impact in both the art and intellectual property industries.

Comments/Questions: gdn@gdnlaw.com

© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

How Much Copyright Protection Is Granted To A Twitpic?

Does copyright protection extend to original pictures that users post on their Twitter account? That question was considered by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York last year. Agence France Presse v. Morel, 2011 WL 147718 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 14, 2011).

The defendant, Daniel Morel (“Morel”), was a photojournalist working in Haiti when an earthquake devastated the city in January 2010. After photographing the aftermath, he opened his Twitter account as well as Twitpic, a third-party application of Twitter. He uploaded his earthquake photos to Twitpic and then posted a message on Twitter that advertised that he had “exclusive earthquake photos,” while also providing a link on Twitter to his Twitpic page. There were no copyright notices on the images themselves, but his Twitpic page included the attributions “Morel” and “by photomorel.”

Minutes after the photos were posted, Dominican Republic resident Lisandro Suero (“Suero”) copied the photos, posted them on his Twitpic account and then “tweeted” that he had the “exclusive photographs of the catastrophe for credit and copyright.” Morel at 2. He did not give attribution to Morel. Eventually, the plaintiff, Agence France Press (“AFP”) and many other international news agencies began to acquire photos of the devastation. AFP emailed Morel asking if he had pictures the agency could use, but before he responded, AFP downloaded 13 of Morel’s earthquake photos from Suero’s Twitpic page. AFP placed the photos in its image forum, where they were transmitted to Getty (Getty holds exclusive rights to market AFP images in North America). AFP then included a credit line of “AFP/Getty/Lisandro Suero.” Getty subsequently licensed the photos to other news outlets, including CBS and CNN.

In December 2010, AFP brought a declaratory judgment action that alleged that it had an express license to use Morel’s photos and thus did not infringe on his copyright. In a counterclaim, Morel alleged that AFP had in fact infringed on his copyright. AFP made a motion to dismiss Morel’s counterclaim, but the Court denied it.

To prevail on a claim of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must demonstrate both:

1)      ownership of a valid copyright, and

2)      infringement of the copyright by the defendant.

Yurman Design, Inc. v. PAJ, Inc., 262 F.3d 101, 108-09 (2d. Cir. 2001).

However, even where both elements of the infringement claim are met, the existence of a license is a valid defense. Tasini v. N.Y. Times Co., Inc., 206 F.3d 161, 170-71 (2d. Cir. 2000). AFP argued that the Twitter and Twitpic Terms of Service granted the news agency an express license to use Morel’s photos and thus did not infringe on his copyright. However, the Court did not accept the argument, finding that the Terms of Service “by their express language […] grant a license to use content only to Twitter and it partners. Similarly, Twitpic’s terms grant a license to use photographs only to Twitpic.com or affiliated sites.” Morel at 6. The Court held that because AFP was not a partner or affiliate of Twitter, it had not proven that it had an express license to use the photos.

AFP also argued that it should be considered a third party beneficiary of the agreement between Morel and Twitter. However, the Court held that the contracting parties must have intended to benefit the third party in order for that party to be considered a beneficiary of the agreement. The Court did not find any evidence that the language of the agreement indicated any intention to confer a license upon third parties, even though the language might have encouraged re-use of any content that is posted. “That language is ambiguous and insufficient to establish on the pleadings that Morel ‘understood that [Twitter] had [the] intent’ to confer a license on other users.” Id.

The Morel Court declined AFP’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s counterclaim and found that the photographer could proceed with his copyright infringement claims.

Comments/Questions: gdn@gdnlaw.com

© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

Should Appropriation Artists Be Protected By Fair Use?

Appropriation artists deliberately copy images and present them in a new version or context.  This art form has become a popular form of creative expression. But is it legal? 

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York recently faced that question and determined whether appropriators of images belonging to others are entitled to use the defense of fair use against a claim of copyright infringement. Cariou v. Prince, 784 F.Supp. 2d 337 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).

The plaintiff in that case, professional photographer Patrick Cariou (“Cariou”), had spent six years in Jamaica. After gaining the trust of the Rastafarians, he had been permitted to take their portraits. In 2000, Cariou published a book of his photographs. The book contained those portraits as well as landscape photos he had taken throughout Jamaica. According to the book’s colophon page and his testimony, Cariou was the sole copyright holder of the images that appeared in his book.

The defendant, Richard Prince (“Prince”), was a well-known appropriation artist who had shown his work at several museums. During an exhibit at a hotel in St. Barts between December 2007 and February 2008, Prince showed a collage entitled “Canal Zone (2007)” which included 35 photographs that had been taken from Cariou’s book. Prince painted over some portions of the photos. Some were displayed in their entirety, while others were only partially shown. Prince intended to use “Canal Zone (2007)” as a means of introducing characters he intended to include in a planned series of artworks. Cariou eventually claimed that Prince had infringed on his copyright, but Prince asserted that his works were protected by the defense of fair use.

The principle that photographs are protectable by the our copyright laws is over 100 years old. Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53 (1884). Cariou clearly possessed undisputed ownership of a valid copyright in the photos.

The Court then considered whether Prince’s use of Cariou’s copyrighted work should be protected as a type of fair use. When determining whether a particular use of a copyrighted work qualifies as fair use, courts will consider four factors:

1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

17 U.S.C. §107.

First, the Court considered the purpose and character of Prince’s use of the photos. It found its purpose to be substantially commercial, and interpreted Prince’s failure to obtain permission (and the co-defendant Gagosian Gallery’s failure to inquire as to whether Prince had obtained permission) to constitute bad faith. Cariou at 350-1. Thus, it determined that the first prong weighed heavily against Prince. In other words, it weighed against a finding that the doctrine of fair use applied.

Second, the Court found that Cariou’s photos were highly original and creative (as opposed to factual or informational). Again, the Court held that the use of such works without permission also weighs against fair use. Id. at 352.

Third, the Court considered the amount and substantiality of the portion of Cariou’s photos used in Prince’s works. It found that, in the majority of his works, Prince appropriated central figures that went to the very heart of Cariou’s works, and that this factor also weighed heavily against a finding of fair use. Id.

Finally, the Court found the fourth factor also weighed against fair use because Prince’s secondary use “unfairly damaged the original market for [Cariou’s] [p]hotos and, if widespread, would likely destroy any identifiable derivative market for [them].” Id. at 353. Because none of the four factors considered supported fair use, the Court found that the defendants were not entitled to the defense of fair use. Id. Accordingly, Cariou prevailed.

The Court’s decision in Cariou provides a framework for how other courts might treat appropriation artists who claim their alleged copyright-infringing behavior should be protected by fair use. This decision suggests that courts are less likely to accept a fair use defense when an appropriation artist produces a highly-commercial work that features the heart of the original work but the artist does not obtain the permission of the original author.

Comments/Questions: gdn@gdnlaw.com

© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

Does Downloading of Digital Music Files over the Internet constitute Public Performance under the U.S. Copyright Act?

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the downloading of a digital music file over the Internet does not constitute a “public performance” of the work under the Copyright Act. ASCAP v. U.S., 2011 WL 4536526, 1 (2011).

In that case, the plaintiff was the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), an unincorporated membership association that licenses approximately 45% of all the musical works played online. Each member of the organization granted ASCAP a non-exclusive right to license the public performance rights to his or her compositions. When AOL LLC, Yahoo! and Real Networks (collectively, the “Applicants”) applied to ASCAP for a license to publicly perform the musical works from ASCAP’s repository via their Internet services, the parties were not able to agree on a licensing fee. Therefore, ASCAP applied to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for the determination of a reasonable fee. At the same time, ASCAP also alleged that downloading of music files over the Internet constituted a “public performance” under the Copyright Act for which the copyright owners must be separately and additionally compensated. ASCAP and the Applicants each moved for partial summary judgment on this issue. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted partial summary judgment to the Applicants. ASCAP appealed to United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s grant of partial summary judgment on the grounds that downloads of music files over the Internet do not constitute public performances of the downloaded musical works. In making this determination, the Court first examined the meaning of the word “perform” as defined in Section 101 of the Copyright Act.  That Section defines performing a work as meaning to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or indirectly or by means of any device or process.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.  Since a download is neither a “dance” nor an “act”, the Court then determined whether a download of musical work fell within the meaning of the terms “recite”, “render” or “play”.

The Court looked at the plain meaning of the words “recite”, “render”, and “play” and concluded that all three words refer to actions that can be perceived contemporaneously. The Court held that the final clause of Section 101 of the Copyright Act also reinforced its conclusion of contemporaneous perceptibility by stating that “[t]o perform … a motion picture or other audiovisual work … [is] to show its images in any sequence or to make sounds accompanying it audible.” 17 U.S.C.  § 101.

The Court held that a download of music file is nothing but a transfer of music file “from an on-line server to a local hard drive”. US v. ASCAP, 627 F. 3d 64, 69 (C.A.2, 2010). Once the music is downloaded, the listener needs to take further action to play the song, and therefore, download of musical files in not contemporaneously perceived by the listener.  The Court then examined the definition of the word “publicly” as defined in Section 101 of the Copyright Act. Under that Section 101, to perform or display a work “publicly” means:

(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or

(2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

                 17 U.S.C. § 101.

The Court held that the “definition of “publicly” simply defines the circumstances under which a performance will be considered public; it does not define the meaning of “performance.” ” Id. at 73. The Court also pointed out the difference between music streaming and music downloading. The Court noted that music streaming renders the music audible to the listener as it is received by the listener’s computer memory whereas music downloading does not immediately produce sound. Thus, downloading of music is merely transmitting music and not performing it. Thus, the Court affirmed the District Court’s decision. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In sum, the general rule is that downloading music files over the Internet does not constitute a “public performance” under the U.S. Copyright Act.

Comments/Questions: gdn@gdnlaw.com

© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

Where does the injury occur when books copyrighted by a New York publisher are uploaded onto the Internet by an out-of-state entity?

Penguin Group (USA) Inc. (“Penguin”), a New York corporation with its principal place of business in New York City, sued American Buddha, a not-for-profit corporation with its principal place of business in Arizona, for copyright infringement in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Penguin claimed that American Buddha infringed upon copyrights owned by Penguin for four books.  American Buddha allegedly published complete copies of those books on its two web sites, making them available free of charge to its 50,000 members and to anyone else with an Internet connection.  The electronic copying and uploading of the books by American Buddha took place in either Oregon or Arizona.  American Buddha claimed its right to copy and upload the books was protected by sections 107 and 108 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101 et seq., which govern fair use and reproduction by libraries and archives.  Penguin disputed that any exception to the Copyright Act applied to American Buddha’s activities.  Penguin Group (USA) Inc. v. American Buddha, CITATION

American Buddha moved to dismiss Penguin’s complaint on the ground that its ties to New York were too insubstantial for it to be subject to personal jurisdiction in that state.  Penguin countered that American Buddha was subject to personal jurisdiction in New York under CPLR 302 (a) (3) (ii) as it committed a tortious act outside of New York that resulted in injuries in New York.  American Buddha countered that CPLR 302 (a) (3) (ii) did not apply since Penguin did not suffer an injury within New York State.  The District Court granted American Buddha’s motion to dismiss holding that Penguin sustained injury in either Oregon or Arizona, which was where the copying and uploading of the books occurred.  The court reasoned that Penguin “suffered only a ‘purely derivative economic injury’ in New York based on its domicile here, which was insufficient to trigger CPLR 302 (a) (3) (ii).”  Id. at p.3.  Penguin appealed the decision of the District Court to New York’s Court of Appeals, which was asked to decide the following certified question:

“In copyright infringement cases involving the uploading of a copyrighted printed literary work onto the Internet, is the situs of injury for purposes of determining long-arm jurisdiction under N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 302 (a) (3) (ii) the location of the infringing action of the residence or location of the principal place of business of the copyright holder?”

The Court of Appeals determined that the location of the infringing action for purposes of New York’s long-arm jurisdiction was the location of the principal place of business of the copyright holder.  Under N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 302 (a) (3) (ii) long-arm jurisdiction may be exercised by a New York court when, 1) the defendant commits a tortious act outside New York; 2) the plaintiff’s cause of action arose from that tortious act; 3) the tortious act caused an injury to a person or property in New York; 4) the defendant expected or should reasonably have expected to act to have consequences in New York; and 5) the defendant derived substantial revenue from interstate or international commerce.  The only issue to be decided by the Court of Appeals was the third element – “whether an out-of-state act of copyright infringement has caused injury in New York.”  Id. at p.5-6.

While acknowledging that determining the location of the injury was more difficult when the alleged infringement involved the Internet, the court was persuaded by two factors to decide that “ a New York copyright owner alleging infringement sustains an in-state injury pursuant to CPLR 302 (a) (3) (ii) when its printed literary work is uploaded without permission onto the Internet for public access.”  Id. at p.9.  First, the intended consequences of American Buddha’s activities – the instantaneous availability of works copyrighted by Penguin on American Buddha’s web site for anyone, in New York or elsewhere, with an Internet connection to download and read the works free of charge.

Second, the unique bundle of rights given to copyright owners tipped the balance in favor of determining New York as the situs of injury.  These five “exclusive rights” include, the right of reproduction; the right to prepare derivative works; the right to distribute copies by sale, rental, lease or lending; the right to perform the work publicly; and the right to display the work publicly.  17 U.S.C. §106.  As a result, a copyright owner has an “overarching ‘right to exclude others from using his property.’”  Id. citing eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 392 (2006).

Combining the aforementioned factors led the court to reason that a New York copyright holder “whose copyright is infringed suffers something more than … indirect financial loss.”  Id. at p.11.  For example, one potential harm of copyright infringement is the loss or diminishment of the incentive to publish or write.  Id. at p. 11.  A tort committed outside of New York that was likely to cause harm through the loss of business inside of New York was “sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction regardless of whether damages were likely recoverable or even ascertainable.”  Id. at p.12.

Further, there was no dispute that American Buddha’s web sites were accessible by any New Yorker with an Internet connection.  Therefore, “an injury allegedly inflicted by digital piracy is felt throughout the United States, which necessarily includes New York.”  Id. at p.12.  The court also distinguished the uploading of copyrighted books to the Internet from traditional commercial tort cases where the injury was generally linked to the place where sales or customers were lost.  The location of the infringement in such cases was unimportant since the goal was to make the copyrighted works available to anyone with an Internet connection, including those in New York.  Thus, “the concurrence of these two elements – the function and nature of the Internet and the diverse ownership rights enjoyed by copyright holders situated in New York – leads us to … conclude that the alleged injury in this case occurred in New York.” Id. at p.13.

Comments/Questions: gdn@gdnlaw.com

© 2011 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

The DMCA Does Not Bar the Unlocking or Jailbreaking of Mobile Phones

On July 26, 2010, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, issued a statement relating to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“Copyright Act”). Under the Copyright Act, the Librarian of Congress is required every three years to “determine whether there are any classes of works that will be subject to exemptions from the statute’s prohibition against circumvention of technology that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work.” Id. at 1.
In his statement, he designated six (6) classes of works. “Persons who circumvent access controls in order to engage in noninfringing uses of works in these six classes will not be subject to the statutory prohibition against circumvention.” They are as follows:
  1. Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances
    • Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students
    • Documentary filmmaking
    • Noncommercial videos
  2. Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.
  3. Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network
  4. Video games accessible on personal computers and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully obtained works, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities, if
    • The information derived from the security testing is used primarily to promote the security of the owner or operator of a computer, computer system, or computer network; and
    • The information derived from the security testing is used or maintained in a manner that does not facilitate copyright infringement or a violation of applicable law.
  5. Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.  A dongle shall be considered obsolete if it is no longer manufactured or if a replacement or repair is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace; and
  6. Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.” 


Comments/Questions: ljm@gdnlaw.com

© 2009 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

A Federal Court Analyzes Whether One Manuscript Allegedly Violates the Copyright Protection of Another

A Florida Federal Court recently discussed the standard for determining if one manuscript violates the copyright of another. Brian Dodd v. Chris James Woods, Film Ranch International, Inc., 2010 WL 2367140 (M.D.Fla. 2010).
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff in that case, Brian Dodd (“Dodd”), alleged several causes of action which “arose after Defendant Chris Woods allegedly stole Dodd’s manuscript entitled “Anonymity” and gave it to Defendant Film Ranch International, who allegedly used it in producing a film entitled “Brainjacked.” Id. at 1.
The Legal Standard for Alleging Copyright Infringement
The Court explained that “[t]o establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement, ‘two elements must be proven: (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.’ Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340, 361, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991). ‘To satisfy Feist’ s first prong, a plaintiff must prove that the work … is original and that the plaintiff complied with applicable statutory formalities.’ Bateman v. Mnemonics, Inc., 79 F.3d 1532, 1541 (11th Cir.1996) (citations omitted). A plaintiff may show copying by demonstrating that the defendants had access to the copyrighted work and that the works are ‘substantially similar.’ Oravec v. Sunny Isles Luxury Ventures, L. C., 527 F.3d 1218, 1223 (11th Cir.2008) … .If the plaintiff cannot demonstrate access, he still may establish copying by showing that the works are “strikingly similar .” Id. (citing Corwin v. Walt Disney Co., 475 F.3d 1239, 1253 (11th Cir.2007)).

“Substantial similarity exists “where an average lay observer would recognize the alleged copy as having been appropriated from the copyrighted work.” Id. (quoting Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. v. Toy Loft, Inc., 684 F.2d 821, 829 (11th Cir.1982)). In particular, a copyright plaintiff “must establish specifically that the allegedly infringing work is substantially similar to the plaintiff’s work with regard to its protected elements.”   Leigh v. Warner Bros., Inc., 212 F.3d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.2000). ‘Thus, in an action for infringement, it must be determined both whether the similarities between the works are substantial from the point of view of the lay [observer] and whether those similarities involve copyrightable material.’ Herzog v. Castle Rock Entm’t, 193 F.3d 1241, 1248 (11th Cir.1999).” Id. at 3.

The Court Determines That the Complaint Fails to State a Claim for Copyright Ownership Because it Failed to Allege Facts that the Manuscript was Substantially Similar

The Court held that the complaint failed to state a claim for copyright ownership because “[i]n a copyright action, the similarity between two works must concern the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. Oravec, 527 F.3d at 1224. Here, Dodd has only generally alleged that the two works are similar in concept and method, and that a character from Brainjacked has the same name as the main character from Anonymity. As an initial matter, copyright protection does not extend to Dodd’s ideas, concepts or methods. See 17 U.S.C. § 102(b) (“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, … method of operation, concept, … regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”). Therefore, aside from a character from each work sharing a name, (which by itself could not amount to substantial similarity), Dodd has failed to allege any other specific aspects of Anonymity and Brainjacked that are similar.” Id. at 4-5



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