Legal Blog

Curb Appeal: Ninth Circuit Explains § 1202 State-of-Mind Requirements in Stevens v. CoreLogic

Nearly two years ago we wrote about a California case involving the alleged removal or alteration of copyright management information (“CMI”) in the context of real estate Multiple Listing Service (“MLS”) software.  Stevens v. CoreLogic, Inc. has since winded its way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled last week in favor of MLS software developer CoreLogic and affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ copyright infringement suit.

A quick refresher on the facts is warranted given the passage of time.  The plaintiffs are professional real estate photographers who photograph homes that are being put up for sale.  They retain the copyrights to their images but license them to real estate agents, who upload the images to MLS platforms through software programs like those created by CoreLogic.  The plaintiffs sued CoreLogic, claiming that CoreLogic’s resizing and processing of their images for upload to MLS platforms constituted purposeful alteration or deletion of CMI-containing metadata under § 1202 of the Copyright Act.  The district court disagreed and dismissed plaintiffs’ claims on a motion for summary judgment, holding that the photographers had failed to prove that CoreLogic provided or distributed false CMI; that any CMI was embedded in their photographs; that CoreLogic took any action that removed or altered any CMI (assuming it was embedded); or, if such actions were taken, that they were intentional, as required by the statute. Continue reading

GDPR and the UDRP: Opposites Don’t Attract

If you’ve checked your email at all in the past month, you’ve likely been inundated by messages with titles like “Privacy Policy Updates.” These updates come en masse in the wake of the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the processing of personal data relating to individuals in the EU. While the GDPR was intended to protect the privacy of European citizens, it has already had an impact on intellectual property enforcement across the world, particularly on ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) and similar services, as well as the integral “WHOIS” search function.

WHOIS is a protocol used to search online databases and identify domain name registrants. Rather than being centrally managed in a single database, WHOIS data is collected and administered by various registries and registrars according to the terms of their contracts with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN has agreements with thousands of domain registrars around the world such as GoDaddy and HostGator which require registrars to post WHOIS data – such as names and contact information like emails and phone numbers – for every person who registers a domain with their service. Through WHOIS, anyone can then look up the contact information of a website domain name registrant (unless that registrant has opted to hide their information through an online privacy service). This set of tools has proven to be invaluable to trademark owners pursuing domain name disputes against cybersquatters –those who register Internet domain names containing trademarks belonging to others with the intent to extort money by selling the domain name to the trademark owner or a third party    Continue reading

Lundin v. Discovery Communications: Even in Reality TV Context, Parties Can’t Contract Away Liability Based on Intentional Harms

The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Lundin v. Discovery Communications ruled that a defamation suit brought by a reality television star against the network and producers of a reality show was not barred simply by virtue of an exculpatory “Assumption of Risk” provision containing a waiver of all claims.  Significantly, the ruling stands for the proposition that there is no special exception for reality television or documentary programming which would bar intentional tort lawsuits.  This decision could have potentially significant implications in the reality television sector, as many reality stars may now have recourse for the oft-cited “bad edit.”

The agreement at issue was entered into by Cody Lundin – an internationally recognized professional survival instructor, best-selling author, and survival and sustainability consultant for national and international news outlets – in connection with his appearance on Discovery Channel’s “Dual Survival.”  Lundin served as the show’s on-camera host, wilderness survival expert, and consultant.  The show features a pair of survival experts in predetermined scenarios set in challenging environments.  For instance, Lundin and his co-hosts have been marooned on an island, lost in a jungle, and stranded in the desert, all with minimal survival gear. Continue reading

Assembly Bill 168’s Impact on Hollywood

As of January 1, 2018, Assembly Bill 168, a new California law prohibiting employers (including movie and television studios) from asking potential employees for their salary history, went into effect. The new law prohibits the following: (1) Relying on the salary history information of an applicant for employment as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant; (2) Asking (orally or in writing) an applicant for employment about his/her salary history, including compensation and benefits; (3) Refusing to provide, upon reasonable request, an applicant with the pay scale for a position; and (4) Contacting an applicant’s prior employer(s) for the information covered by (1), (2), and (3). However, the law does not prohibit the applicant from “voluntarily and without prompting” disclosing this information but, does prohibit agents from disclosing the information without express permission from their client. “This represents a pretty fundamental change in how negotiation has traditionally transpired in the entertainment industry,” says corporate attorney Bob Darwell, who represents companies like Amazon Studios. “The first step to cutting a deal was to call the talent representative and ask for quotes and then to verify those quotes.”[1]

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Blockchain and Film Distribution

As the world becomes more familiar with blockchain, people and companies continue to turn to the rapidly adopted technology to solve problems that were previously seen as just the costs of doing business. Over the past few years, in addition to serving as the backbone for headline-grabbing digital cryptocurrencies, the blockchain ledger has been used to create comprehensive, accurate and decentralized databases of music rights, image rights, and even the protection of voting rights. Over the past few months, players in the film industry have made efforts to implement the blockchain technology into the life cycle of a film, including with regard to the accounting and distribution processes.

As explained in detail in our previous posts, blockchain technology presents a decentralized way to record and account for verified transactions in a variety of commercial applications. Or, to put it another way, blockchain’s innovation has been to create a peer-to-peer platform, which allows for the automated management of certain rights and the verifiable recording of transactions concerning those rights. By removing the necessity of a third party to officiate a transaction (such as a bank), blockchain’s promise is a world where people can conduct business more immediately and directly without a loss in security. As such, any space that has a need to protect, manage, and transact in a set of rights, is fertile ground for blockchain applications. Continue reading

CDAS’s Copyright Photo/Video Claims Defense Checklist for Media Platforms

Copyright infringement claims from photographers and image licensing companies have become increasingly common with the widespread use of easily accessible digital content on the Internet and in social media.  Photo copyright owners discover these claims en masse by way of image recognition software, and often pursue them using high-volume contingency fee-based law firms, claiming that any number of posts from time immemorial constitute infringements justifying large settlement demands.  But just because you’ve received an unreasonably high demand that far exceeds any typical license fee doesn’t mean you’re liable for that amount.  Some due diligence can help you gain leverage in these disputes, and possibly even avoid further litigation.  To be sure, content creators should be fairly paid if their content has been misused, but the extremely aggressive way some of these claims are pursued calls for a nuanced and informed approach.  You should contact a firm with experience in copyright and litigating image claims if you find yourself on the business end of one of these demands (especially a formal lawsuit), but for now, here are the basic steps you should take to preserve your best defenses and minimize potential exposure to costs and damages: Continue reading

Examine How the #MeToo and #TimesUp Movements are Impacting Entertainment Contracts

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and their effects continue to unfurl, Hollywood is utilizing legal mechanisms via entertainment contracts to implement and supplement the changing norms, from “morals provisions” to “inclusion riders.”

What are commonly referred to as “morals provisions” have a long history in the entertainment industry, but in recent years, have been more commonly found in endorsement and advertising deals than in television and film agreements. Studios and production companies that had stopped using such provisions have started putting in place plans to reimplement them, while those that had been using them all along are revising them to conform to the new landscape.  Even distributors who never used morals provisions are starting to include them in their contracts, lest one of their projects ends up with some unexpected negative baggage.  Regardless, all of these industry players are looking for ways to tailor their contractual language to better address the valid business concerns related to fallout from the #MeToo movement.  Although talent attorneys are generally not pleased at the resurgence of these provisions, it appears unlikely at this time that the provisions will go away entirely; indeed, in some cases talent representatives think that there should be reciprocal provisions benefitting talent if there is another Weinstein-like situation with a studio or distributor. Continue reading

Oracle America Inc. v. Google, LLC: Oracle Prevails in Fair Use Case before Federal Circuit; CDAS Provides Amicus Support

Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California’s ruling of fair use in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google LLC, and held that a verbatim and non-transformative taking in the presence of an actual or potential licensing market fatally undermined the defense.  Oracle had sued Google for copyright infringement, alleging that Google had unlawfully used 37 packages of Oracle’s Java application programming interface – “pre-written Java source code programs” that serve as shortcuts for various computer functions to save programming time – in its Android-powered devices.  Google copied verbatim 11,500 lines of Oracle’s copyrighted computer code as well as the structure, sequence, and organizing of the packages.  After a second jury trial on fair use, Google prevailed on its fair use defense, and Oracle appealed after the district court rejected its post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law. Continue reading

Notable Blockchain Developments in Early 2018

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are no longer relegated to the most esoteric corners of the Internet.  While these important technological and social innovations were once widely unknown, or considered the purview of the dark web, they have now reached the mainstream.  Federal and state governments, as well as major corporations, are taking notice. Here are a few recent noteworthy developments:

Cryptocurrencies Ruled “Commodities” Under the Commodities Exchange Act

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled on March 6, 2018 that virtual currencies are commodities regulated under the Commodities Exchange Act (CEA).  In this important decision, the court held that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission had standing to sue under the CEA to protect investors against fraud and manipulation in virtual currency markets.  This allowed the CFTC to bring claims against Coin Drop Markets alleging that this defendant “offered fraudulent trading and investment services related to virtual currency.”  Rulings like this challenge the common assumption that cryptocurrencies are unregulated, and may signal the shrinking of the crypto “wild west” frontier. Continue reading

Court Holds Violation of FTC Endorsement Guidelines Does Not Lead to Federal Trademark Claim

(Lokai Holdings LLC v. Twin Tiger USA LLC, S.D.N.Y. 2018)

While brand owners often benefit from the endorsement of online and social media “influencers,” such endorsements must not mislead consumers as to the relationship between the brand and individual endorsing the brand’s products or services. To ensure that “material connections” between brands and influencers are clearly and fully disclosed, the FTC has put forth guidelines designed to assist brand owners with meeting this requirement. Under the guidelines, brands are subject to liability for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and those individuals who promote or endorse the brand. To the extent an advertiser contravenes these guidelines, however, no private right of action exists; instead, it is up to the FTC to take action. A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has added a further limitation, holding that a violation of the FTC guidelines cannot support a claim for false advertising under either federal or California state law. Continue reading