Copyright Issues for Educational Institutions: Court Issues Long-Awaited Opinion in Georgia State University Copyright Infringement Case

On May 11, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued its long-awaited opinion in Cambridge University Press v. Becker, No. 1:08-CV-1425-ODE (N.D. Ga. May 11, 2012) which examined one of the new ways professors and students teach and learn in the digital age. Although the court found the University’s copyright policy contributed to copyright infringement on only five of the many claims, the district court applied an unconventional fair use analysis and, among other surprises, extensively examined the availability for licensing of digital excerpts and this may have publishers taking a second look at licensing models for digital versions of works offered to institutions. Universities in turn need to be wary of formulaic fair use guidelines as courts will not generally look at fair use in terms of a fixed percentage of a work, particularly as new licensing models do emerge. Continue reading

Court Upholds Right to License Celebrity Images

This week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissals of two right of publicity claims against Corbis Corp. — Shirley Jones v. Corbis Corp. and Alberghetti v. Corbis Corp. In the Jones case, the court held that Shirley Jones, star of the TV show “The Partridge Family,” had given her implicit consent to use her likeness in photographs when she attended highly-public red-carpet events. The court noted that Corbis operated within well-known and established industry customs in relying on her implied consent to the photographs’ distribution. In the Alberghetti case, the court held that the two-year statute of limitations on right of publicity claims in California had expired before the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit. In both cases the court declined to rule on the arguments that the right of publicity claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, and in both cases the court awarded Corbis attorneys’ fees. Continue reading

Ralph Lauren’s Famous Polo Player Put Back on his Horse

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Thread Pit, Inc.’s “Falling Rider” Trademark Registration Because Consumers were Likely to Confuse the Trademark with the Famous Polo Ralph Lauren Mark


The United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently put Ralph Lauren’s famous polo player back on his horse in granting the petition of PRL USA Holdings, Inc., a Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation subsidiary (“PRL”) to cancel the trademark registration of Thread Pit, Inc. (“Thread Pit”). Continue reading

Copyright Office Weighs in on the Copyrightability of Exercise Routines and other Compilations

The Copyright Office issued a statement of policy (37 CFR Part 201), effective June 22, 2012, to clarify the practices relating to the claims in compilations, and in particular claims involving the selection of uncopyrightable subject matter. The definition of a “compilation” in Section 101 of the Copyright Act is a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. Continue reading

Idea Submissions: Review with Caution

A recent Second Circuit decision gives writers who alleged "idea theft" a second chance to sue

This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, in a case captioned Forest Park Pictures v. Universal Television Network, Inc., united with the Ninth Circuit in California by holding that breach of implied contract claims based on “theft of ideas” are not preempted by the Copyright Act. In doing so, the decision narrowly avoided a circuit split among the two entertainment/media hub jurisdictions, and it also resolved a split within the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. The core question in these types of “idea theft” cases is whether plaintiffs who bring lawsuits alleging theft of ideas under state law theories are barred from pursuing their claims on the ground that the appropriate cause of action is, instead, one for copyright infringement under federal law. The Second Circuit held in Forest Park that such plaintiffs are not necessarily prevented from bringing the “idea theft” claim. Continue reading

Postal Disservice: No Stamp of Approval for Just One Side of a “Hypothetical Negotiation”

Our nation’s great capitol is home to many museums, national monuments, and of course the White House. In addition to all these symbols of American history is The Column. The Column, the centerpiece of the National Mall, is a collection of nineteen steel structures commemorating Korean War Veterans. Tourists gather around these statues with their digital cameras snapping away, in an effort to capture these unique structures that evoke a military platoon. But it is not just tourists and school trips that surround The Column these days, its controversy as well. Continue reading

Copyright Protection for Food – Perishable?

Kim Seng Co. v. J & A Importers, Inc., 810 F. Supp. 2d 1046 (C.D. Cal. 2011)

In Kim Seng Co. v. J & A Importers, Inc., a California District Court considered the copyrightability of a food display. Kim Seng Co., (“Kim Seng”), a Chinese-Vietnam food supply company sued another Chinese-Vietnam food supplier, J & A Importers, Inc. (“J & A Importers”), for using an image of a bowl of food on product packaging for rice sticks. Kim Seng alleged copyright and trade dress infringement for using its product packaging. And also interestingly, it sued J&A for copyright infringement of the food display itself. Continue reading

Seventh Circuit Nips Brownmark Films’ Copyright Claim “In the Butt”

South Park, the long running television show, is no-stranger to parodies, spoofing everything from High School Musical to The Passion of The Christ. But their humor was not appreciated by Brownmark Films, LLC, (“Brownmark”), who sued the comedy show for copyright infringement when it made fun of its dance video What What (In the Butt) in a 2008 episode. The case is Brownmark Films, LLC v. Comedy Partners, No. 11-2620 (7th Cir. 2012). Continue reading

Louis Vuitton’s ‘Hangover 2’ Case Knocked Off Without Giving Judge a Headache

A filmmaker’s rights under the First Amendment to use well-known trademarks for artistic and expressive purposes will be protected against a challenge from the trademark holder so long as the use has genuine relevance to the film’s storyline. On June 15, 2012 the District Court for the Southern District of New York, on a motion to dismiss, ordered Louis Vuitton’s lawyers to pack up their bags, dismissing the fashion company’s claim that a short scene in the Warner Bros’ film The Hangover Part II caused millions of dollars of damages to the company and confusion among its customers. Continue reading

Artist Wins Touchdown Against University for his Paintings

An artist’s right to incorporate trademarks in expressive works pits the artist’s fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment, against the desire of a trademark owner to aggressively control the licensing of merchandise based on its trademarks. And when the artwork involves a much-loved college sports team, the tension runs deep. On June 11th 2012 the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reached a decision in the much anticipated University of Alabama Board of Trustees v New Life Art Inc. case. The case chronicles the legal saga between the University of Alabama and Daniel Moore, a long time sports painter of football scenes for the University in which the Artist came out the victor, essentially winning a touchdown for advocates of art as expressive work, free from the restraints of trademark law. Continue reading