Category Archives: Copyrights

“Happy Birthday to You” Song Copyright Stricken

by: Kelly A. Williams, a shareholder at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

Good Morning to You Productions Corp. v. Warner Chappell Music, Case. No. 2:13-cv-04460, C.D. Cal. is about whether Warner/Chappell was properly asserting that it owned a copyright in the song “Happy Birthday to You.”

Birthday CakeThe case is a class action suit led by film production companies and a California musician who were working on a documentary about the song, “Happy Birthday to You.”  Warner/Chappell claimed to have a copyright on the song and demanded that Plaintiffs pay a $1,500 licensing fee to use the song.  The court goes through a large amount of historical evidence presented by both sides on cross motions for summary judgment.  After reviewing the evidence, the court found that Warner/Chappell did not own a valid copyright in the “Happy Birthday” lyrics and that the music for the song had entered the public domain years ago.  The origin of Warner/Chappell’s claim that it owned the copyright went back to a previous company which had acquired a song from two sisters that had the same music but different words, titled “Good Morning to All.”  The court could not find any reference to the “Happy Birthday” words in the agreement between the sisters and the purchasing company, Summy Co. (Defendants were successors-in-interest to Summy Co.).  Thus, the court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs are seeking to have Warner/Chappell return the millions of dollars they collected over the years.  Also, we are all now free to sing “Happy Birthday to You” without fear of having to pay $1,500 (unless the case gets reversed on any appeal).

2d Circuit Punts on Copyright Registration Question Again

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

Think!An interesting copyright question continues to percolate in the Circuit Courts over what “registration” means as a prerequisite for filing a copyright claim in federal court. The Second Circuit, in The A Star Group, Inc. v. Manitoba Hydro, (No. 14-2738) noted the Circuit split on the issue but declined again to weigh in.

Under 17 U.S.C. § 411(a), a copyright holder must register its work before it can initiate a lawsuit against an infringer:

no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.

The question is what is sufficient to satisfy the “registration” requirement–is the filing of the application sufficient, or does the application need to be accepted and granted by the Copyright Office?

Currently, the Circuit Courts on split on the issue. The Fifth and Ninth Circuits require only that the copyright holder file the application. See, e.g., Apple Barrel Prods., Inc. v. Beard, 730 F.2d 384, 386-87 (5th Cir. 1984); Cosmetic Ideas Inc. v. IAC/InteractiveCorp,  606 F. 3d 612, (9th Cir. 2010). While the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits require that the Copyright Office grant the application. See, e.g., M.G.B. Homes, Inc. v. Ameron Homes, Inc., 903 F.2d 1486, 1488-89 (11th Cir. 1990) ;  La Resolana Architects, PA v. Clay Realtors Angel Fire, 416 F.3d 1195, 1202-05 (10th Cir. 2005). The Seventh Circuit appears to have taken conflicting views on this matter. Compare Chicago Bd. of Educ. v. Substance Inc., 354 F.3d 624, 631 (7th Cir. 2003) with Gaiman v. McFarlane, 360 F.3d 644, 655 (7th Cir. 2004).

The Second Circuit chose not to wade into this issue and was able to decide the case without having to choose a side. At some point, however, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely need to resolve this dispute as the Circuit split continues. As it stands now, a copyright holder can face very different results depending on where the case is filed, which is not a helpful situation when a national right, such as a copyright, is involved.

USPTO and US Copyright Office Offer New Tools for Practitioners

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

ComputerThe US Patent and Trademark Office and the US Copyright Office recently announced that some new tools are available to practitioners and interested individuals and companies to help individuals be better aware of recent patent applications and to help explain the fair use doctrine.

The USPTO, in partnership with Reed Technology and Information Services, created an alert system (the Patent Application Alert Service) that allows individuals to receive email alerts whenever a patent application publishes that contains certain keywords. After signing up for the service, a user can set “alerts” based on keywords found in the title, abstract, description, drawings, claims, CPC classification, applicant, inventor, or assignee fields (or combination of these fields). The system then sends out weekly emails whenever an alert criteria has been satisfied.

This system will enable individuals and companies to be better aware of what their competitors are attempting to patent, as well as to keep abreast of changes in the field. The USPTO also hopes that this service will lead to better patents being issued because interested individuals in the relevant fields can monitor patent applications and help identify prior art for pre-issuance submission to the USPTO.

The US Copyright Office has also been busy, creating a Fair Use Index, which is a searchable database of court opinions indexed by category and type of use. The Index currently has decisions reaching back to 1841 and provides a link to the opinion, the relevant court information, the type of medium (photograph, text, etc.), and the outcome. The US Copyright Office created the Index to help the public understand the contours of the fair use doctrine as applied to copyright law. While useful for the public, the Index will also be a useful resource for practitioners.

Jury Returns $7.4 Million Verdict for Marvin Gaye’s Family in “Blurred Lines” Copyright Infringement Suit

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

Law and MoneyOn Tuesday, a jury in Los Angeles reached a verdict in favor of Marvin Gaye, Jr.’s family against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, finding that Williams and Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” infringed Marvin Gaye’s copyright in his song “Got to Give It Up.” The jury awarded approximately $7.4 million in damages.


In 1976, Marvin Gaye, Jr. composed the song “Got to Give It Up,” which went on to become a musical hit and reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in the United States. Marvin Gaye registered the musical composition “Got to Give It Up (Part 1 and 2)” with the United States Copyright Office in 1977 (Reg. No. EP 366-530), and the registration was subsequently renewed in 2005 (RE 910-939). Marvin Gaye was a Grammy winning performing and is a member of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. He passed away in 1984.

In 2013, artists Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke, and Clifford Harris, Jr. composed the hit song “Blurred Lines,” which also went on to become a huge success, selling over six million copies and being viewed over 250 million times on the internet. In various interviews, Robin Thicke indicated that he had been influenced by Marvin Gaye’s work and wanted to make something like that. He further indicated that “Got to Give It Up” was one of his favorite songs of all time.

Shortly after the song was released in March 2013, the Marvin Gaye’s family began to assert that “Blurred Lines” infringed the copyright on “Got to Give It Up” and threatened to bring a lawsuit against Williams and Thicke. In response, Williams and Thicke filed a pre-emptory lawsuit in Los Angeles on August 15, 2013, seeking a declaratory judgment that they did not infringe any of Marvin Gaye’s copyrights (Williams v. Bridgeport Music, Inc.No. 2:13-cv-06004, US. District Court for the Central District of California). Gaye’s family filed a counterclaim for infringement in response.

After discovery, the Williams and Thicke filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the case need not go before a jury. (The parties’ summary judgment arguments can be found here–Williams/Thicke and Gaye.) The Judge denied their motion (his opinion is here), and the case proceeded before a jury. After nine days of testimony and presentations, the jury returned its verdict, finding that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke infringed the copyright on “Got to Give It Up” and awared approximately $7.4 million in damages to Marvin Gaye’s family. The jury concluded, however, that the infringement was not willful.

Williams and Thicke have subsequently filed a notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Take Aways

Copyright infringement cases are never a sure things, especially when they go to a jury. Williams and Thicke chose to file suit seeking a declaratory judgment that they did not infringe, which was a risky maneuver. While there are no guarantees that Gaye’s family would not have filed a lawsuit anyway, the decision may have escalated the conflict. Individuals who have been accused of infringement need to consider carefully whether a declaratory judgment action is the prudent thing to do. In some cases it will be, because it gives the accused infringer an opportunity to control the forum in which the case is heard and when the lawsuit begins, among other things. It may be worthwhile in some cases to accelerate a decision, even if that means risking getting an unfavorable outcome. This is just one of the many decisions that litigants need to consider carefully before lawsuits are filed and threats are made. There is likely no one right answer that applies to all cases. Instead, litigants and their attorneys need to carefully think through the various risks and benefits before they proceed.

What Is a Copyright?

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at the Pittsburgh law firm of Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

PSMN What Is...? SeriesIn the next installment of our continuing “What Is?” series, we are going to discuss copyrights. One of the core intellectual property rights that exists under U.S. law is a copyright. In a nutshell, it is a legal right that provides authors of certain types of original and expressive works that have been fixed in a tangible medium the right to prevent others from using the work without the author’s permission. Obviously, there is a lot more detail behind this, so we will only cover some of the basics in this post.

First, only certain types of works are eligible for copyright protection. They include (1) literary works, (2) musical works, (3) dramatic works, (4) choreographic works, (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works, (7) sound recordings, and (8) architectural works. In addition, the work must have been fixed in a tangible medium to be eligible for a copyright—e.g., written down, put on film, or written in a computer. Certain things cannot be copyrighted, such as (1) things that have not been fixed in a tangible form (e.g., thoughts in your head or speeches that are not recorded or written down), (2) titles, names, and short phrases, (3) ideas, methods, inventions, or systems, and (4) standardized and commonly known information, such as standard calendars, tape measures, and lists or tables of publicly known information.

Second, in order to be eligible for a copyright, the work must be original. But, it does not have to be novel. In other words, the author must show that he or she created the work (and did not copy it from someone else), but the author does not have to show that he or she was the first to ever think of the work.

If an author can satisfy these requirements, he or she has a copyright. Under the change in federal law in 1976, a copyright exists under federal law the moment an author fixes an original expressive work in a tangible medium. There is no longer the need to affix a copyright symbol to the work or register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. But, and this is a big but, there are a number of important advantages to registering a work with the Copyright Office that can be lost if not done timely. So, it is best for an author to consult an intellectual property attorney if there is the possibility that the work may be valuable or need to be protected.

A copyright gives an author a number of substantive legal rights, such as the ability to control who (1) reproduces or distributes copies of the work, (2) creates derivative works based on the original, and (3) performs or displays the work publicly. An author can sue an individual or company that violates these rights and collect damages, statutory penalties, or obtain a court order preventing the infringer from violating these rights in the future. In some cases, copyright infringement can even be a crime.

Because a copyright is a property right, it can be sold, transferred, or licensed like other types of real and intellectual property.

As of January 1, 1978, a copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. If the work was made for hire or was published anonymously/psuedonymously, the copyright lasts for the shorter of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.

For more information about copyright, you can read this nice summary by the United States Copyright Office.

In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about some other issues involving copyrights, such as the fair use defense, what kind of remedies are available to authors whose works have been improperly copied, and the work-for-hire doctrine, among other things.

Copyright and the Selfie

by Cara Disheroon, attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

l1aYeIn the ever transitioning world of copyright law, issues surrounding the selfie have recently taken center stage. The latest dispute involves a selfie taken by a monkey who, in 2011 in Indonesia, grabbed wildlife photographer David Slater’s camera to snap a wide-smiling image of itself. Wikipedia subsequently placed the image in Wikimedia Commons, the area of Wikipedia that holds open-source material. Slater then requested that the photo be removed as he was the copyright owner and Wiki refused. You can visit Mr. Slater’s webpage for additional examples of his work here.

Wikimedia stated to the Huffington Post in response to the controversy “We didn’t think the monkey owned the copyright – instead, our assessment was that there’s no one who owns the copyright. That means that the image falls into the public domain.”

It appears that the US Copyright Office agrees with Wiki’s analysis. Two weeks after the controversy broke, the agency issued a 1,222 page draft compendium analyzing federal copyright law in which it stated “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.” Within Chapter 300, which outlines the “Human Authorship Requirement,” the Office noted that copyright law protects “the fruits of intellectual labor” that are “founded in the creative powers of the mind.” A photograph taken by a monkey was specified in the list of examples NOT protected.

A similar ownership issue surrounding the selfie has also arisen in the context of the Ellen DeGeneres group selfie taken at this year’s Oscars and posted on Twitter. The photo, taken in the audience during the ceremony, quickly became the most tweeted photo of all time and DeGeneres later granted the Associated Press permission to share the photo for editorial purposes to subscribers of AP’s photo service. But legal scholars noted that DeGeneres may not be the actual owner of the copyright.   As Bradley Cooper technically pressed the button, he could arguably be the copyright owner given the courts view historically that pressing the shutter created ownership.

Should Cooper attempt to stake a claim, DeGeneres could have an argument based on Brod v. General Publishing Group, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 2544 (9th Cir. Feb. 15, 2002). In Brod, a photographer sued a book author for using his photographs without permission. The court found however, that the book author was a co-owner since his contributions to the process were “sufficiently original and expressive.” The copyrightable expressions in Brod included selection and arranging of subject matter, composition, camera angle and lighting.

As Bradley Cooper is unlikely to assert a copyright claim, the incident currently serves only as an interesting hypothetical. However, as technology advances, issues over authorship in the photography/video context will likely arise again as physical snapping of the shutter is no longer required to produce artistic works.

Is CafePress a Service Provider and Could Its Stripping of Metadata Cost It Safe Harbor Status Under the DMCA?

by Cara Disheroon, attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

The Southern District of California recently grappled with these issues in Steven M. Gardner v. CafePress Inc., Case No. 3:13-cv-1108-GPC-JMA (S.D. Cal. Feb. 26, 2014). The case centered on a copyright infringement claim against the self-publishing site CafePress and provides an interesting analysis of the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) at 17 U.S.C. § 512.

The facts regarding the images were undisputed.  Plaintiff, Gardner alleged copyright infringement of various wildlife images which were distributed for sale on the site by CafePress users. Gardner filed suit and CafePress, on the same day they received the complaint, disabled access to the alleged infringing material.  Subsequently, they discovered a second member’s use of the artist’s work and immediately disabled and terminated the second user’s account. Before the material was disabled however, $6,320 worth of products was sold. CafePress then moved for summary judgment based on the safe harbor provision of § 512.

In analyzing whether CafePress could take advantage of the safe harbor provision, the court began with an analysis of the term “service provider” under § 512(c). Noting that the language “a provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therefor” was a broad definition, they then compared CafePress to other vendors such as Amazon and eBay. Unlike these companies however, CafePress’s service differed as they actually determine the prices for retail products, pay users only a royalty or commission, possess the ability to modify designs and determine which products are sold. The court found CafePress’s activities to be beyond a service that “merely facilitates the exchange of information between internet users” and thus the court was unable to find as a matter of law, that CafePress was a “service provider.”

Moreover, § 512(i) requires that the provider must have “adopted and reasonably implemented” a policy to terminate repeat infringers and not interfere with “standard technical measures” used to protect copyrighted works. Plaintiff contended that CafePress interfered with “standard technical measures” by deleting metadata when images are uploaded to the website. The court agreed stating that the deletion created a dispute of material fact thereby precluding judgment as a matter of law and adding “From a logical perspective, metadata appears to be an easy and economical way to attach copyright information to an image.” At this stage, the discussion is only dicta but it is nevertheless important as the court appears to be placing the burden on CafePress and given the fact that many social media sites routinely strip metadata, a ruling on the merits could potentially affect a whole host of sites which conduct the practice.

CafePress did prevail on its Motion for Partial Judgment as to statutory damages and attorney fees given that Gardner had failed to register his images before the alleged infringement. Concluding that the alleged acts constituted the same “series of acts” that commenced prior to registration of the images, the court granted CafePress’s motion. This means that Gardner is limited to his actual damages of $6,320 and may affect whether the case proceeds to trial.

If the case does proceed however, a ruling by the court on the merits could have a huge impact on numerous self-publishing sites with the potential loss of safe harbor status and the risk of significant statutory damages.


Court Holds That IP Address Evidence Is Not Sufficient to Allege Claim for Copyright Infringement

Guest post by Cara Disheroon, attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

Cara L DisheroonIn Elf-Man LLC v. Cariveau, No. C13-0507RSL, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS (W.D. Wash., Jan.17, 2014), the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington found that a production company’s complaint alleging copyright infringement for the internet downloading of its film, “Elf-Man,” did not state a “plausible” ground for relief when the company’s only evidence of infringement was the use of defendants’ IP addresses.

The production company initially filed an action against 152 Doe defendants for allegedly downloading the film using the BitTorrent application, which identified defendants through their IP address.  Following a dismissal of the Doe defendants in the original complaint, plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint naming eighteen individual defendants.  Four of these defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the complaint failed to state a claim that was “plausible” under the Federal Rules.

The court agreed stating that plaintiff provided no factual allegations that supported claims that defendants directly or indirectly stole copyrighted material.  Noting that plaintiff alleged only that the defendants purchased internet access and failed to ensure that others did not use that access to download copyrighted material, the Court addressed the claims of direct, contributory, and indirect infringement in turn.   Regarding the direct and indirect infringement allegations, the court reasoned that the mere identification of defendants’ IP address “tells us very little about who actually downloaded Elf-Man using that IP address.”  Citing various other possibilities, including another family member, guest, or freeloader who could have engaged in the infringing activity, the Court found that plaintiff alleged facts that were merely possible.  In the eyes of the court, it was also possible that defendants simply failed to secure their connection against third-party interlopers.  The conclusory allegations of the complaint therefore failed to give rise to a plausible inference.

Regarding the indirect infringement claim, the Court again found that plaintiff’s complaint was conclusory and failed to provide facts that would support a finding that defendants intentionally encouraged or promoted the infringement.  Plaintiff argued that defendants should be held liable for contributory infringement “because they failed to take affirmative steps to prevent unauthorized use of their internet access….” The Court, while agreeing with plaintiff that courts continue to analyze contributory liability claims and that not all issues had been litigated, held that courts have fixed the requirement that defendant’s contribution to the infringement be intentional.  Absent this essential element of the claim, defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted.

The decision arguably adds to the already difficult burden of copyright holders to protect their works from online infringement but also demonstrates the balancing act of courts which require proof that a particular individual behind the IP address actually pirated the copyrighted work.

Busy IP Docket for US Supreme Court Upcoming

Sneath, Henry 2012 headshotBy: Henry Sneath, Chair of the Intellectual Property practice at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. or 412-288-4013

The US Supreme Court has a very busy IP docket in the next few months. Close watchers of the court predict a continuing focus on IP cases. Our friends at AIPLA provide a nice summary of the oral argument schedule of IP cases through April. We will follow these cases and post any important decisions. See AIPLA link below:

Supreme Court Announces It Will Hear Four New Intellectual Property Cases

by: Robert Wagner, intellectual property attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ()

SupremeCourtImage_1The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear four additional intellectual property cases this term, which makes nine total intellectual property cases this term so far. Brief summaries of the issues presented are provided below, along with links to more information about each of these cases from our friends at SCOTUSblog.

New Cases

Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. (No. 12-786)

The issue in this case is whether a party may be liable for infringement under either 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) or § 271(b) where two or more entities join together to perform all of the steps of a process claim.

Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc. (No. 13-369)

Two issues are raised in this case. Does the Federal Circuit’s acceptance of ambiguous patent claims with multiple reasonable interpretations—so long as the ambiguity is not “insoluble” by a court—defeat the statutory requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming? And, does the presumption of validity dilute the requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming?

POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola (No. 12-761)

The issue in this case is whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a private party cannot bring a Lanham Act claim challenging a product label regulated under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

ABC, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. (No. 13-461)

The issue in this case is whether a company “publicly performs” a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet.

Previous Cases

Medtronic v. Boston Scientific Corp. (No. 12-1128)

The issue in this case is is whether, in a declaratory judgment action brought by a licensee under MedImmune, the licensee has the burden to prove that its products do not infringe the patent, or whether (as is the case in all other patent litigation, including other declaratory judgment actions), the patentee must prove infringement.

This case was argued on November 5, 2013.

Lexmark International v. Static Control Components (No. 12-873)

The issue in this case is whether the appropriate analytic framework for determining a party’s standing to maintain an action for false advertising under the Lanham Act is (1) the factors set forth in Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters (“AGC”), 459 U.S. 519, 537-45 (1983), as adopted by the Third, Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits; (2) the categorical test, permitting suits only by an actual competitor, employed by the Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits; or (3) a version of the more expansive “reasonable interest” test, either as applied by the Sixth Circuit in this case or as applied by the Second Circuit in prior cases.

This case was argued on December 3, 2013.

Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Management Systems (No. 12-1163)

The issue in this case is whether a district court’s exceptional-case finding under 35 U.S.C. § 285 (in a patent infringement lawsuit), based on its judgment that a suit is objectively baseless, is entitled to deference.

This case will be argued on February 26, 2014.

Octane Fitness v. Icon Health and Fitness (No. 12-1184)

The issue in this case is whether the Federal Circuit’s promulgation of a rigid and exclusive two-part test for determining whether a case is “exceptional” under 35 U.S.C. § 285 improperly appropriate a district court’s discretionary authority to award attorney fees to prevailing accused infringers in contravention of statutory intent and this Court’s precedent, thereby raising the standard for accused infringers (but not patentees) to recoup fees and encouraging patent plaintiffs to bring spurious patent cases to cause competitive harm or coerce unwarranted settlements from defendants?

This case will be argued on February 26, 2014.

Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International (No. 13-298)

The issue in this case is whether claims to computer-implemented inventions—including claims to systems and machine, processes, and items of manufacture—are directed to patent-eligible subject matter within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 101 as interpreted by this Court.

This case will be argued on March 31, 2014.