Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Copyright
Dryer v. National Football League
Plaintiffs, twenty-three professional football players, filed a putative class action against the NFL, claiming that films produced by NFL-affiliate NFL Films violated the players’ rights under the right-of-publicity laws of various states as well as their rights under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125. Twenty plaintiffs settled, but appellants elected to opt out of the settlement and pursued individual right-of-publicity and Lanham Act claims. The district court granted summary judgment for the NFL. Applying the three Porous Media Corp. v. Pall Corp. factors, the court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the films are expressive, rather than commercial speech and that the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 301(a), therefore preempts appellants’ claims. The court also concluded that appellants' claim of false endorsement under the Lanham Act fails as a matter of law because appellants provide no evidence that the films contain misleading or false statements regarding their current endorsement of the NFL. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Dryer v. National Football League" on Justia Law
Killer Joe Nevada v. Leaverton
This appeal stemmed from a copyright dispute over the 2012 motion picture "Killer Joe." Plaintiff filed suit against defendant for copyright infringement and defendant counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment. The district court dismissed the suit, dismissed the counterclaim as moot, and denied defendant's requests for attorney’s fees and to make a record. Defendant appealed. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant attorney fees because plaintiff may properly sue "John Doe" to ascertain an ISP subscriber and because plaintiff promptly dismissed its lawsuit once it learned defendant was not the infringer and thus had proper motives to sue the subscriber. Further, defendant cites to no authority that a party’s financial status affects whether attorney’s fees under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 505, should be awarded. Therefore, it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to fail explicitly to consider the factor of financial status. The court rejected defendant's remaining claims and affirmed the judgment. View "Killer Joe Nevada v. Leaverton" on Justia Law
Ray v. ESPN, Inc.
Steve "Wild Thing" Ray wrestled in the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) from 1990 to 1994. His matches were filmed. Ray specifically agreed that the films would be "sold and used." Since his retirement from the UWF, Ray has promoted healthcare products and weightlifting supplements. ESPN obtained films of his wrestling matches and re-telecast them throughout North America and Europe without obtaining his "consent to use [his] identity, likeness, name, nick name, or personality to depict him in any way." Ray does not allege that ESPN obtained the films unlawfully. Ray filed suit, asserting, under Missouri state law: invasion of privacy, misappropriation of name, infringement of the right of publicity, and interference with prospective economic advantage. The Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal on the grounds of preemption by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101. Ray's wrestling performances were part of the copyrighted material, and his likenesses could not be detached from the copyrighted performances contained in the films. Ray has not alleged that his name and likeness were used to promote or endorse any type of commercial product. His complaints are based solely on ESPN airing video recordings depicting him in a "work of authorship," which is plainly encompassed by copyright law. View "Ray v. ESPN, Inc." on Justia Law
E3 Biofuels, LLC v. Biothane, LLC
In 2005 E3’s predecessor began construction of an ethanol plant, to be powered, in part, by methane, and contracted with Biothane for a boiler system. Biothane, an expert in systems integration but not in boilers specifically, subcontracted with PEI to install and integrate the boilers. Biothane retained overall responsibility. Both are engineering companies. In 2007, PEI’s engineer repeatedly tried and failed to light the main flame of one of the boilers. The repeated attempts caused gas to build up and explode. E3 claims that the boiler never worked properly afterward and that the plant failed as a result. The plant’s owners eventually reorganized in bankruptcy. In 2011 (3 years and 364 days after the explosion) E3 sued, alleging torts against both companies and breach of contract against Biothane. The district court granted defendants summary judgment, finding all of E3’s claims time-barred under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-222, Nebraska’s two-year limitations period for actions based on professional negligence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Regardless of whether the chain of events ultimately led to the breach of a contract, E3 still sued Biothane “for an action performed in a professional capacity.” View "E3 Biofuels, LLC v. Biothane, LLC" on Justia Law
Sailor Music, et al. v. Walker
Debtor, a managing member of Twister's Iron Horse Saloon, appealed the bankruptcy court's order determining that a debt arising from a civil judgment in favor of appellees for copyright infringement was excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(6). Some of the music played or performed at Twister's was in the repertoire of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Appellees granted ASCAP a nonexclusive right to license public performance rights of their works. Twister's did not hold a public performance license. In this case, the court agreed with the bankruptcy court that debtor had willfully failed to obtain an ASCAP license and maliciously disregarded the rights of ASCAP's members and Federal copyright law. Therefore, the debt was excepted from discharge and the court affirmed the judgment.View "Sailor Music, et al. v. Walker" on Justia Law
Capitol Records, Inc., et al v. Thomas-Rasset
This appeal arose from a dispute between several recording companies and defendant. Defendant willfully infringed copyrights of 24 sound recordings by engaging in file-sharing on the Internet. On appeal, the companies appealed the remedy ordered by the district court. The court concluded that the recording companies were entitled to the remedies they sought: damages of $222,000 and a broadened injunction that forbid defendant to make available sound recordings for distribution. But because the verdicts returned by the second and third juries were sufficient to justify these remedies, it was unnecessary for the court to consider the merits of the district court's order granting a new trial after the first verdict. View "Capitol Records, Inc., et al v. Thomas-Rasset" on Justia Law
Art Etc. LLC v. Angel Gifts, Inc.
Art Etc., LLC sought a declaratory judgment that the sale of inventory purchased from Angel Gifts, Inc. and Donald Schmit would amount to copyright infringement in violation of the United States Copyright Act. Angel Gifts and Donald Schmit moved to stay the proceedings pending arbitration, invoking an arbitration provision in an agreement between the parties. The district court denied the motion. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the parties intended for the arbitration provision to apply only under certain circumstances; and (2) Art. Etc.'s claims did not fall within the scope of the arbitration provision. Thus, arbitration in this case was not required. View "Art Etc. LLC v. Angel Gifts, Inc." on Justia Law
Pearson Educ., Inc. v. Almgren
Textbook publishers Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and The McGraw-Hill Companies (collectively, Publishers) made successful copyright infringement claims against the bankruptcy estate of Joel Almgren. The bankruptcy court struck Publishers' demand for a jury trial and also denied Publishers' motion for attorney's fees. The district court affirmed, finding that Publishers waived any right to a jury trial on copyright liability and damages by filing proofs of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding and that the bankruptcy court relied on appropriate factors in denying an award of attorney's fees. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Publishers relinquished their right to have a jury determine the amount of damages when they filed claims against Almgren's bankruptcy estate; and (2) the bankruptcy court did not clearly err in finding that an award of attorney's fees was not appropriate under these circumstances.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., et al. v. X One X Productions, et al.
Appellants (AVELA) appealed a permanent injunction prohibiting them from licensing certain images extracted from publicity materials for the films "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz," as well as several animated short films featuring the cat-mouse duo "Tom & Jerry." At issue was whether the district court properly issued the permanent injunction after granting summary judgment in favor of appellee (Warner Bros.) on their claim that the extracted images infringed copyrights for the films. The court affirmed in large part the district court's grant of summary judgment to Warner Bros. on the issue of copyright infringement and the resulting permanent injunction. The court reversed with respect to one category of AVELA products, and vacated in corresponding part the permanent injunction entered by the district court. The court remanded for modification of the permanent injunction and further proceedings with the opinion.
Posted in: Copyright, Entertainment & Sports Law, Intellectual Property, Trademark, U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals