Category Archives: Copyrights

U.S. Supreme Court Interprets the “First Sale” Doctrine

Supreme Court

By: Joe Carnicella, intellectual property attorney with Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

On March 19, 2013, in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 11-697, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.  Specifically, a buyer or other lawful owner of a copy (of a copyrighted work) lawfully manufactured abroad is protected under the “first sale” doctrine and such buyer may bring that copy into the United States (and sell it or give it away) without obtaining permission to do so from the copyright owner.

Section 106 of the Copyright Act grants the owner of copyright exclusive rights including the right to distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership.  One limitation on these exclusive rights falls under Section 109(a) of the Copyright Act (commonly referred to as the “first sale” doctrine), which provides that the owner of a particular copy lawfully made under this title is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy.  Thus, once a copy has been lawfully sold or its ownership otherwise lawfully transferred, the buyer of that copy and subsequent owners are free to dispose of the copy as they wish.  Section 602(a)(1) further provides that importation into the United States, without the authority of the owner of copyright under this title, of copies of a work that have been acquired outside the United States is an infringement of the exclusive rights to distribute copies under Section 106.

Wiley & Sons publishes academic books and assigns rights to publish, print and sell the English language textbooks abroad to its wholly owned foreign subsidiary.  Supap Kirtsaeng, while studying in the United States, asked his friends and family to purchase copies of foreign edition English-language textbooks at Thai book shops, which sold the books at low prices, and to mail the books to him in the United States, wherein he used the books, sold them, reimbursed his family and friends and kept the profit.

In 2008, Wiley initiated a lawsuit against Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement on the grounds that Kirtsaeng’s unauthorized importation of its books and his later resale of those books amounted to an infringement of Wiley’s Section 106(3) exclusive right to distribute as well as the Section 602 related import prohibition.  Kirtsaeng defended against the claim on the ground that the books he had acquired were “lawfully made” and that he had acquired them legitimately.  His position was that the “first sale” doctrine under Section 109(a) permitted him to resell or otherwise dispose of the books without the copyright owner’s further permission.  The District Court ruled that the “first sale” defense was not available to Kirtsaeng because the doctrine does not apply to “foreign-manufactured goods.”  The Second Circuit agreed with the District Court.

The Court analyzed the language within these statutes, and in particular the phrase “lawfully made under this title.”  Wiley argued that the phrase imposes a form of geographical limitation and that the “first sale” doctrine does not apply to copies of American copyrighted works manufactured abroad.  Kirtsaeng argued that the phrase imposes a non-geographical limitation, and in particular, that the intention was for the phrase to mean “made in accordance with” or “in compliance with the Copyright Act.”  In this case, Kirtsaeng asserted that the “first sale” doctrine would apply to copyrighted works as long as their manufacture met the requirements of American copyright law, e.g. copies manufactured abroad with the permission of the copyright owner.  The Court considered the language of Section 109(a), its context and the common-law history of the “first sale” doctrine and concluded that Section 109(a) favors a non-geographical interpretation.  The U.S. Supreme Court determined that, while Section 602(a)(1) makes clear that importing a copy without permission violates the owner’s exclusive distribution right, it also refers explicitly to Section 106(3), which is by its terms is subject to various limitations including the “first sale” limitation under Section 109(a).

A complete copy of the Court’s Opinion can be found on the United States Supreme Court’s website.

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Targeted by Copyright Alert System

By: Robert M. Palumbi, attorney at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

Efforts to combat internet piracy and protect a copyright in the digital environment are certainly not a new concept. Less than a year ago we were all made aware of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two federal anti-piracy proposals which were met with hostility and backlash from both users and providers.

Based on the backlash of SOPA and PIPA, a new system appears to be on the horizon. The Copyright Alert System (CAS) is part of a new approach by ISP’s and Intellectual Property Organizations to help users understand the significance of protecting copyright in the digital environment. This is a significant change from the punitive nature of SOPA and PIPA and a shift to a more educational method. The CAS focuses on advising subscribers about the importance of avoiding inadvertent or intentional online distribution of copyrighted content and to suggest legal ways to obtain such content.

The CAS is intended to target the infringement of peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted works. This type of infringement is easily detectable, as IP addresses of internet customers usually reveal themselves during the transfer of files. Regardless, the rights of a copyright owner won’t change. The Copyright Act allows damages of up to $150,000 per infringement of a work registered with the Copyright Office. It should be no surprise that the CAS was heavily lobbied for by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, the two industries that have been hit the hardest but digital copyright infringement.

The CSA will use a unique “six alert” process that will be progressive in nature. Owners will notify a participating ISP when they believe that their copyrights are being misused online by a specific computer which can be identified by the IP address. The ISP will then send the first alert; perhaps an email that notifies the subscriber that their account has been involved in a copyright infringement. This first alert will also direct the subscriber to educational resources which will provide an explanation of the law violated, how to avoid copyright infringement, and provide legal ways to obtain content. If the activity persists, a second alert is sent which reiterates the warnings and provides the resources of the first alert.

The third and fourth alerts are very similar in nature. Not only will the subscriber receive an alert, but they will be forced acknowledge receipt of the warnings that they are violating a copyright. The fifth alert allows the ISP some leeway in what steps are taken to stop future copyright infringement. The ISP may temporarily reduce the speed of the subscriber’s internet; redirect the user to web page until the user calls the ISP to discuss the matter, or any other measures that the ISP deems necessary. The sixth alert will involve more harsh mitigation measures at the discretion of the ISP.

The CAS represents a compromise between internet users and the movie and music industry, who were seeking much harsher measures. Those industries were seeking a plan that would cut off internet service to the subscriber after the sixth alert, or even fine the ISP provider for each transgression after the sixth alert, which would then be passed down to the subscriber. A similar system has been implemented in France. The CAS alerts do not alter the rights of the copyright holder, who can still treat each alert as a separate infringement for purposes of damages under the Copyright Act. The Center for Copyright Information expects this system to be launched by the end of 2012.

Who Will Inherit Your Digital Music–Bruce Willis to Sue Apple?

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

Earlier this week, an interesting story emerged that Bruce Willis was considering suing Apple over whether his children could inherit his iTunes collection after his death. The story turned out to be a hoax, but the questions it raises regarding ownership and rights in this digital age are very interesting.

Decades ago, music, movies, and books were exclusively purchased in a tangible form—records or CDs, videotapes or DVDs, and paperback or hardback books. While these formats are still largely available, more and more people are purchasing this type of content in an intangible digital format through services like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s Kindle stores.

In the past, the purchase of a tangible product like a record or book made transferring the product easy. Under the first sale doctrine, one simply could give or sell the record or book to another without any constraints. Thus, inheriting the record or the book did not pose any problems from an intellectual property or legal perspective. (Whether anyone wanted grandma’s or grandpa’s record or book collection is another matter).

When one purchases a song from iTunes or a book for Amazon’s Kindle store, the issue gets more complicated. One is actually purchasing a limited license to listen to the song or read the book on a limited number of devices. No physical, tangible products are purchased. Normally, the license is limited to the purchaser and is arguably valid only during the lifetime of the purchaser (assuming there are no other restrictions, as there sometimes are with video “purchases”). Thus, there is nothing tangible to give to another. Indeed, the licenses often explicitly restrict the giving or selling of the product to another.

Getting back to the situation that Bruce Willis was supposedly concerned about—what would happen to all of the music he purchased after he died? Most of the time, families will likely not be particularly concerned about whether they inherit grandpa’s music collection, but not always. For instance, what if the father or mother dies prematurely, and everything that the family was listening to or watching on a regular basis was purchased through that person’s iTunes account? The shift to a digital medium could have a very real and expensive consequence (in addition to whatever emotional trauma the family has to deal with from the untimely death).

I think a more concerning issue is the potential effect on a family’s photographs and letters, which can be some of the most treasured possessions a family has. With the shift to storing photographs on-line and corresponding through e-mail rather than letters, we are moving some of our most prized possessions and memories from tangible forms that can easily be preserved and given to others to an intangible form that may have unexpected and unanticipated restrictions. For example, if an individual stores all of his or her photographs on-line, what happens when that person dies? Will the account be closed and all the files deleted once the annual payments stop? Even if it is not, who will be allowed to access it, especially if the passwords were never written down or are lost?

We are still in the infancy of the digital age in many respects and questions like these are only beginning to be considered, and many companies’ terms and conditions are simply not designed to deal with circumstances like these. So, what should one do?

Where possible and when the ability to transfer the item to your spouse, children, or others is important, then efforts should be made to make sure the item is in a tangible form or resides on a computer in a way that is accessible regardless of whether you are alive or whether you fail to make an annual payment to a particular cloud service. In the case of pictures, that could mean having them printed out or storing them in a folder on your hard drive (instead of in the cloud). The same is true of e-mails. If there are particularly important e-mails, make sure that they have been saved on your hard drive, instead of leaving them in the cloud, or print them out.

Finally, it is a good practice to leave instructions as to what important on-line accounts you have (e-mail, Facebook, iTunes, cloud storage, banking, etc.) and how to access them so that others can get access to these accounts where appropriate if you are no longer able to. Given the important nature of these accounts, you should only leave this information with people you trust or in a location that is secure (e.g., a bank box).

It will be interesting to see how companies respond to issues like the one that Bruce Willis supposedly raised (even though he didn’t actually). The cloud provides many great conveniences, but as is often true with new technologies and ways of doing things, there are many unexpected issues that emerge. Hopefully, people, companies, and the law will find solutions to preserve those family treasures without too many hassles.

Public Domain May Not Be So Public After All–The Warner Bros. v. X One X Decision

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

Materials that have fallen into the public domain should be free of any claims of copyright infringement, right? Not so fast says the Eighth Circuit. As with many issues surrounding copyright law, the answer is not so clear cut. It depends on whether other copyrights exist and how one uses the public domain materials in relation to the other copyrights.

In Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. v. X One X Productions (No. 10-1743), Warner Brothers sued a number of defendants for allegedly infringing its copyrights in characters and images from the films Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, as well as numerous short films featuring the cartoon characters “Tom & Jerry.”

Studio Releases Marketing Materials Without Copyright Notice

At the time of these movies’ release in 1939, the copyright laws required that materials be marked with a copyright notice in order to gain the protection of the copyright laws. Materials that failed to comply with the notice requirements of the 1909 Copyright Act in effect at that time forfeited any copyright protections and fell into the public domain. Prior to releasing the films, the studios distributed marketing materials (posters, photographs, lobby cards, etc.) with images of the actors in costume on the sets. None of these materials complied with the copyright notice requirements, and, thus, fell into the public domain. When the movies were released, the studio properly marked the movies and continues to hold a valid copyright in them.

Defendants used these public domain images on shirts, lunch boxes, music box lids, playing cards, and three-dimensional models and figurines. In some cases, defendants added features to the images, such as signature phrases from the movies, or combined the images to create new scenes, sometimes reminiscent of scenes from the movies.

Warner Brothers Sues for Copyright Infringement

Warner Brothers sued, arguing that defendants were only entitled to reproduce the public domain images in their entirety and in the same form without any modifications (i.e., only reproduce the posters as posters). Anything else, it argued, violated its copyrights in the movies and the right to create derivative works.

The Eighth Circuit agreed that the underlying images from the marketing materials were in the public domain, but found that the use of those materials was limited by other copyrights.

In other words, if material related to certain characters is in the public domain, but later works covered by copyright add new aspects to those characters, a work developed from the public domain material infringes the copyrights in the later works to the extent that it incorporates aspects of the characters developed solely in those later works.

The Court then looked at the original books, the movies, the public domain materials, and the defendants’ products to see whether defendants’ use infringed Warner Brothers’ copyrights. In particular, the Court looked to the images in the marketing materials and found that the visual appearance was not sufficiently consistent to have thrown the characters themselves into the public domain by virtue of the release of the marketing materials. Instead, the Court found that only the exact images were in the public domain.

Eighth Circuit’s Holding

Taking this all together, the Eighth Circuit found that defendants were not limited to merely reproducing the public domain materials in exactly the same form as they originally existed. Instead, it found that defendants could reproduce any portion of the public domain materials in any two-dimensional format they chose.

The Court did prohibit defendants from combining public domain images into a new composite work, though. This, it felt, created a “new increment of expression of the film character that was not present in the separate images” and, therefore, infringed Warner Brothers’ copyrights. Similarly, the Court prohibited defendants from taking the two-dimensional images and recasting them in three-dimensional form. This too created a new increment of expression that violated Warner Brothers’ copyrights.

What Does This Case Mean?

The takeaway from this case is that there are no simple answers when it comes to materials that are both copyrighted and in the public domain. One has to look carefully at the facts of the case to determine the nature and scope of the materials in the public domain and in the copyrighted materials. For example, do the public domain materials convey properties and characteristics of the characters or are they just isolated images? How much is in the public domain versus how much is still copyrighted? Has the copyrighted material added anything over the material in the public domain?

While not a complete victory for the studio, Warner Brothers obtained much of what it wanted in this case. Defendants cannot create new works based on the material in the public domain. Instead, they are limited to reproductions (either in full or in part) of the public domain material. It will be interesting to see if either side tries to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

Court Threatens to Sanction Copyright Troll Righthaven LLC

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

Yesterday, Chief Judge Roger Hunt of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada issued a stern ruling threatening sanctions against Righthaven LLC in one of the numerous copyright infringement lawsuits brought by Righthaven in Nevada (Righthaven LLC v. Democratic Underground, LLC, No. 2:10-cv-01356-RLH-GWF). In dismissing the case, the Court found that Righthaven misrepresented its rights in the underlying copyrighted works and did not have standing to sue for infringement. The Court further ordered Righthaven to show cause why it should not be sanctioned for failing to disclose another party’s (Stephens Media LLC) pecuniary interest in this and hundreds of other cases filed in Nevada.

Who Is Righthaven LLC?

Righthaven is a Nevada company that acquired limited rights from a variety of copyright holders, including Stevens Media LLC and News Media Group, to file hundreds of lawsuits against individuals and entities that allegedly infringe copyrights by posting excerpts of articles from newspapers such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post. Righthaven has filed suit in a variety of jurisdictions throughout the United States, including Nevada, Colorado, and South Carolina.

Righthaven does not create or publish the works it is suing on. Instead, it acts as an enforcement arm of the original copyright holders that it has a relationship with. It scours the web looking for individuals, typically bloggers, that have reposted all or portions of articles appearing in newspapers such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal or Denver Post. It then files suit, threatening substantial sanctions, including damages up to $150,000 and forfeiture of web site domain names. Righthaven has sued everyone from political candidates to charities, individuals, bloggers, and companies—even those that a newspaper featured in the very article that was copied.

Because Righthaven does not create or publish the content that it is suing on, Righthaven is often referred to as a “copyright troll,” in an apparent tip to how many people refer certain types of non-practicing entities in the patent infringement arena.

Righthaven Lacks Standing to Sue

With respect to copyrights from Stevens Media, Righthaven entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement (“SAA”) in 2010 that was made public for the first time this year as a result of discovery in one of the lawsuits. The agreement purported to assign all rights to the copyrighted materials to Righthaven. In fact left all of the rights with Stephens Media except for the bare right to sue. For example, Stephens Media expressly retained the rights to license, receive royalties, and exploit the copyrighted works. In addition, Stephens Media receives 50% of any of the litigation proceeds (minus costs) that Righthaven receives for lawsuits involving Stephens Media’s copyrights.

The Copyright Act only allows the legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right to the copyrighted work to sue for infringement, and a copyright holder cannot (under Ninth Circuit law) assign the bare right to sue to another. In the Court’s decision yesterday, it found that the SAA gave Righthaven only a bare right to sue, so it was ineffective and Righthaven lacked standing—“ The plain and simple effect of this section was to prevent Righthaven from obtaining, having, or otherwise exercising any right other than the mere right to sue as Stephens Media retained all other rights.”

Righthaven Faces Sanctions

The Court was very troubled by Righthaven’s actions during this and other lawsuits brought in federal court in Nevada. In particular, the Court called some of Righthaven’s arguments and statements “disingenuous,” “inaccurate,” and “dishonest.” Most troubling to the Court was Righthaven’s failure to disclose that Stephens Media had a pecuniary interest in the litigation, despite Local Rule 7.1-1’s explicit requirement that all parties disclose anyone that has a direct, pecuniary interest in the outcome of the case. The Court believed that Righthaven also failed to disclose this information in approximately 200 other cases it filed in Nevada. Therefore, the Court ordered Righthaven to show cause within two weeks “why it should not be sanctioned for this flagrant misrepresentation to the Court.”

Is Righthaven Finished?

The Court’s decision yesterday is a stinging rebuke to Righthaven and its tactics. It will be interesting to see if it can survive this ruling and the likely challenges by defendants in the hundreds of other cases around the country. What may have appeared to be an easy way to make money off of these copyrights could end up costing Righthaven significant amounts of money in sanctions and attorneys’ fees.

Additional Blog Resources for more information

Social Media and IP Protection

by: Joseph R. Carnicella, intellectual property attorney with Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

You may have seen the photograph of the space shuttle Endeavour taken by Stefanie Gordon from her airplane seat.  Well, Ms. Gordon never quite realized exactly what was to come with a simple tweet.  MSN posted a very interesting article this morning exploring the intricacies of copyright protection afforded to those who capture and share fortuitous famous photographs instantly with the public through social media.

The Cost of IP Justice – Can Small Businesses Afford it?

Posted By: Henry M. Sneath, principal shareholder and IP Group Chair at Pittsburgh Litigation and Patent Prosecution boutique Picadio, Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C. ( or 412-288-4013)

The Patent Reform Act of 2011 portends yet another problem for small business folks trying to develop technology, and more importantly trying to enforce it. We have written about the pending legislation in prior posts. If it passes the US Congress, and if the “first to file” patent rule is therefore adopted by the USPTO as the law, patents will go to those with superior resources, in-house legal departments and the wherewithal to file patents on a moment’s notice. Gone will be the rule that “invention” is the starting point. It will be the result of a race to the PTO.

This is only part of the current IP problem for small businesses however, and the bigger problem is litigation cost. Small businesses simply cannot afford to bring or defend intellectual property lawsuits. If they are the plaintiff, it is likely that they have been given advice by counsel on the anticipated expense of patent or trademark enforcement litigation. Legal fee costs, expert witness costs, deposition costs, demonstrative evidence for trial costs and lost opportunity time for employees can add up quickly and it is important for the client and counsel to set a budget and to discuss each phase of the litigation with a projection of costs. Sadly this cost discussion is often ignored and we have received calls from potential clients who have exhausted their litigation budgets and who are nowhere near a settlement or trial. Frustrated they seek new counsel, but often new counsel is hampered by the inability to properly fund the ongoing litigation.

More difficult perhaps is the plight of the small business (or individual) defendant in an IP suit. These litigants are often ill-prepared for the costs and rigor of defending litigation in Federal Court. Having never been sued before, but having read about the high cost of lawsuits, they frequently seek legal counsel with the plea: “Can we end this quickly as I can’t afford to be in a lawsuit?” When Plaintiff is seeking to shut down production and sale of the new defendant’s chief product line, the answer to this question may not be easy. I tell them sure – we can end it early – all you need to do is stop making  the product that is your main source of revenue, agree never to make it again, pay the plaintiff money for their alleged damages and pay all of their legal fees. These legal fees are generally not insignificant and may have been generated by one or more large law firms at enormous billing rates.

The client, who may even have solid defenses, is then faced with a difficult choice between: 1) Ignore the defenses and cave in quickly with all of the resultant cost and loss of income; 2) Engage in some litigation to try to establish some leverage for a favorable settlement or 3) Take the chance that expensive litigation will, over time, allow a favorable result and perhaps even an award of attorney’s fees to repay the defendant for the litigation cost. It is option 2 which poses the problem of delicate balancing by lawyer and client. How much litigation and cost is enough to create favorable settlement leverage? The client needs to balance the revenue/profit of the allegedly offending product or mark, against the phased cost of litigation.  We can project that phase one (investigation, pleadings, Federal Rule initial disclosures, status conference before the court etc) might cost “x” dollars. The client can decide whether that cost is appropriate against the revenue stream attributable to the product or mark, and determine when to make the settlement move. There is never, of course, any guarantee that the settlement option will work and therein lies the balancing act problem. The client may get stuck in long litigation and need to simply fight its way out. Good communication between lawyer and client is critical to making these decisions.

Time for a Checkup?—IP Audits

by: Robert Wagner, an intellectual property lawyer at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

With the dawn of the new year, it is time to consider getting your annual checkups. IP assets often form the core assets of a company—enabling the company to provide its goods and services and to prevent others from encroaching on its valuable property. Regardless of the size of your company, maintaining the health of these assets should be a key priority, so a company’s IP portfolio should undergo a routine review to make sure the assets are in top shape and no issues have arisen.

Among the many things that can be done in an IP checkup (or audit) is to determine which assets are currently being used. Are their underutilized assets that should be utilized? Or, can these assets be sold or licensed to someone else? An IP audit can verify that you have the proper title or license to the IP assets you do use and that all maintenance fees have been paid to maintain the enforceability of these assets. An IP audit can not only assess the assets you have, it can serve as preventative medicine to help ward off lawsuits. With the recent plague of false patent marking cases that have been filed throughout the country, verifying that the goods you provide are properly marked and any expired patent numbers have been removed can help avoid needless and expensive litigation.

An IP audit provides the mechanism to obtain a current snapshot of the status of a company’s IP assets. Like any other kind of checkup, an IP audit can range from a broad, general review and inventory of the assets to a detailed analysis of some or all of the assets. Often, the audit begins with the broad review to identify potential problems and then prioritizes which problems to focus on.

Top 10 IP Decisions of 2010

by: Robert Wagner, an intellectual property lawyer at Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, P.C.

2010 gave us a number of important decisions in the intellectual property field. The Bilksi decision regarding the patentability of business methods was eagerly awaited from the Supreme Court. In addition, the Federal Circuit issued a number of key decisions involving false marking, the written description requirement, patent misuse, and patent term extensions.

Bilksi v. Kappos—130 S.Ct. 3218 (2010)

Bilski was one of the most anticipated cases of the year. The Supreme Court considered whether business method patents are patentable subject matter under the Patent Act. As the Court is want to do, it did not substantially clarify the standards. Nonetheless, three key points emerged from this decision.

1.  Business method patents are not per se unpatentable subject matter, although they still might be (or should be) difficult to get.

2.  The Federal Circuit’s machine or transformation test for patentability under § 101 is not the sole test, although it is still a very useful clue for determining whether a process meets the requirements of § 101. Few processes that do not meet this test would be patentable.

3.  The three previous exceptions to the broad standards of patentability under § 101 still exist—laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable.

American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League—130 S.Ct. 2201 (2010)

American Needle was a non-exclusive National Football League Properties (NFLP) licensee for certain apparel that bore NFL team insignias. In December 2000, the NFL decided to only grant exclusive licenses, and American Needle did not receive one. American Needle sued, claiming that the NFL’s licensing practices violated § 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Seventh Circuit found no violation, but the Supreme Court reversed.

While not a purely IP case, this case is at the intersection of IP and antitrust laws. The NFL claimed that the NFLP was a joint venture that was formed to develop, license, and market NFL IP rights. Section 1 of the Sherman Act prohibits concerted action that restrains trade. The key inquiry in this case was whether the NFL acts as a single decisionmaker in the IP licensing arena or whether the NFLP brings together independent decisionmakers. The Court concluded that while the NFL may in some areas act like a single decisionmaker (for scheduling, rules, etc.), in the IP arena each team is pursuing its own interests and directly competing against the other teams. Thus, the decision by the NFLP to issue exclusive licenses was concerted action that deprived the marketplace of independent action by each team and thus could state a claim for a violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act. The Court noted that a joint venture could be governed by antitrust laws in some aspects of its business, while not in others. The Court remanded to the lower courts to address the substance of the claims.

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U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Ninth Circuit Ruling Regarding “First Sale Doctrine” and Foreign Manufactured Products

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

In Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega, S.A., the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide the following question presented:

Under the Copyright Act’s first-sale doctrine, 17 U.S.C. § l09(a), the owner of any particular copy “lawfully made under this title” may resell that good without the authority of the copyright holder. In Quality King Distribs., Inc. v. L’Anza Research Int’l, Inc., 523 U.S. 135, 138 (1998), this Court posed the question presented as “whether the ‘first sale’ doctrine endorsed in § 109(a) is applicable to imported copies.” In the decision below, the Ninth Circuit held that Quality King (which answered that question affirmatively) is limited to its facts, which involved goods manufactured in the United States, sold abroad, and then re-imported. The question presented here is: Whether the Ninth Circuit correctly held that the first-sale doctrine does not apply to imported goods manufactured abroad.

On December 13, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit by an equally divided Court.  Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega, S.A., No. 08-1423, 562 U.S. _____ (Dec. 13, 2010).

Briefly, the evidence below showed that Omega manufactured watches in Switzerland, bearing a design registered in the U.S. Copyright office.  Omega first sold the watches to authorized distributors overseas.  Unidentified third parties eventually purchased the watches and sold them to a New York company, ENE Limited, which in turn sold them to Costco.  Costco then sold the watches to consumers in California.  Omega did not authorize the importation of the watches into the U.S. or the sales made by Costco.

Omega filed a lawsuit alleging that Costco’s acquisition and sale constituted copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. §§ 106(3) and 602(a).  Costco defended the suit based upon the “first sale doctrine” which provides that once a copyright owner consents to the sale of particular copies of his work, he may not thereafter exercise the distribution right with respect to those copies.  Omega countered that the first sale doctrine did not apply because the watches bearing the copyrighted design were manufactured and first sold oversees.  Costco conceded that Omega’s position was consistent with Ninth Circuit precedent but argued that this precedence had been overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in Quality King Distribs., Inc. v. L’anza Res. Int’l, Inc., 523 U.S. 135, 118 S. Ct. 1125 (1998).  The Ninth Circuit disagreed with Costco on the grounds that Quality King was factually distinguishable.  Moreover, the Ninth Circuit concluded that to permit the application of the first sale doctrine to foreign manufactured items would result in the extraterritorial application of U.S. laws, which is prohibited unless the contrary is clearly indicated by statute, which it was not here.  Further, the extraterritorial application of U.S. laws in the area of intellectual property is especially limited.  Consequently, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court that had found in favor of Costco on summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.  The Ninth Circuit’s entire opinion can be found at Omega S.A. v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 541 F.3d 982 (9th Cir. Sept. 3, 2008).