Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Copyright
Ragan v. Berkshire Hathaway Auto, Inc.
Ronald Ragan, Jr. brought a suit against Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, Inc. (BHA) alleging that the company had copied his car dealership customer intake form ("Guest Sheet") without his permission, constituting copyright infringement. The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Ragan held a certificate of registration for the Guest Sheet issued by the United States Copyright Office and asserted that BHA continued to use the form after acquiring a company that had previously copied and used the Guest Sheet. BHA argued that the Guest Sheet was not copyrightable. The district court agreed with BHA and ruled in its favor. On appeal, Ragan argued that the district court erred in finding the Guest Sheet uncopyrightable. The appeals court, however, upheld the district court's decision, ruling that the Guest Sheet lacked the requisite originality to be protected under copyright law. The court found that the Guest Sheet, which contained basic questions and prompts, did not exhibit sufficient creativity, and was designed to record, not convey, information. The court also dismissed Ragan's claim that the district court ignored the statutory presumption of copyright validity granted to the Guest Sheet by the certificate of registration, stating that the copyrightability of the Guest Sheet could be determined by an examination of the Guest Sheet alone. View "Ragan v. Berkshire Hathaway Auto, Inc." on Justia Law
Cornice & Rose International, LLC v. Four Keys
The Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990 (AWCPA)1 extended copyright protection to “architectural works,” defined in 17 U.S.C. Section 101 as “the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings.” The principal question raised by this appeal is whether First Security Bank & Trust Company (the “Bank”), which purchased an uncompleted building in a sale approved by the bankruptcy court in the property owner’s Chapter 7 liquidation proceeding, infringed the architect’s copyright in the building by completing the building without the permission of the building’s architect, Cornice & Rose (“C&R”). The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court there was no actionable infringement because C&R’s infringement claims are precluded by the bankruptcy court’s order approving the sale. The court explained that C&R makes no showing on appeal that the district court would have reached a different result (i.e., denied summary judgment) had it been allowed to file a sur-reply. In other words, the argument is entirely procedural. Further, it ignores that sur-replies are viewed with disfavor and that a party appealing the denial of leave to file a discretionary pleading has a heavy burden to prove that the adverse procedural ruling mattered. Here, even if C&R’s contention that DSC and WWA raised new or additional arguments in the supplemental affidavit is fairly debatable. Thus, the court concluded that the denial of permission to file the requested sur-reply in a thoroughly litigated case was a textbook example of harmless error. View "Cornice & Rose International, LLC v. Four Keys" on Justia Law
H&R Block, Inc. v. Block, Inc.
Block, Inc. appealed from an order granting in part H&R Block, Inc. and HRB Innovations, Inc.’s (collectively, “H&R Block”) motion for a preliminary injunction. H&R Block claims that the use of “Block” and a green square logo in connection with tax services: (1) is likely to cause confusion because H&R Block and Block, Inc. both offer overlapping services, including tax preparation and filing, other related financial services, and charitable services; (2) has confused consumers, the media, and investors; and (3) will cause irreparable harm, as it will undermine H&R Block’s ability to control its public image and perception and lead consumers to incorrectly believe Block, Inc’s tax service is connected to H&R Block or one of the “building blocks” in the Block, Inc. family of brands. The Eighth Circuit reversed and vacated the preliminary injunction. The court explained that H&R Block failed to satisfy its burden because the evidence in the record is inadequate to establish substantial consumer confusion by an appreciable number of ordinary consumers, nor irreparable harm that is concrete and imminent. The court wrote that if there is, in fact, trademark infringement, H&R Block will have a full opportunity to demonstrate that infringement at a trial on the merits. View "H&R Block, Inc. v. Block, Inc." on Justia Law
Cincinnati Insurance Company v. Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC
Five months after being sued in Oregon for trademark infringement, Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC provided notice to its liability insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Company. Due to Rieger’s delay, Cincinnati refused to reimburse Rieger’s legal fees for the five months that Cincinnati was unaware of the lawsuit. The Oregon case was ultimately dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Instead of waiting to be sued in a court that did have jurisdiction, Rieger’s parent company, GSP Licensing LLC, filed a new suit in Missouri as the plaintiff. GSP was not named under Rieger’s insurance policy, so Cincinnati denied coverage for the Missouri case. Cincinnati then filed this lawsuit, seeking a declaration of coverage. The district court granted summary judgment to Cincinnati. The Eighth Circuit reversed in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Cincinnati. The court affirmed the dismissal of Rieger’s tort claims and the imposition of sanctions. The court explained that under Missouri law, a tort claim is independent of a contract claim if the tort claim can succeed without regard to the outcome of the contract claim. In other words, the tort claim could succeed regardless of the outcome of the contract claim. Here, Rieger admits that its tort claims would fail if its contract claim succeeded. By Rieger’s own admission, the court found that the district court properly dismissed Rieger’s tort claims. View "Cincinnati Insurance Company v. Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Allen Beaulieu v. Clint Stockwell
Plaintiff, Prince’s photographer, claims his former collaborators and a potential investor in a book project kept his photographs and used them without permission. He sued. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants on all claims. Plaintiff appealed. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. Beaulieu appeals the judgment and the costs awarded to Defendant. Plaintiff presented two possible theories of conversion. The first is an ongoing conversion, that the collaborators still have his photos. The second is a technical conversion, that the collaborators kept his photos for several months after he demanded their return. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained Plaintiff has not given a firm inventory of how many photos he believes are missing. An extensive forensic protocol did not identify any of his materials in their possession or any wrongful use. Plaintiff provides nothing more than speculation and suspicion against Defendants. While Plaintiff has a method for counting the total number of his photos, this is not sufficient to substantiate his allegations. Further, in regards to Plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim, the court explained silence, coupled with continued and normal interactions between him and the collaborators, implied his approval of the marketing plan and the corresponding distribution of his images, and thus showed an implied license. Finally, the court wrote that since Defendants prevailed in showing there was no issue of material fact about the conversion claim or the copyright claim, they also prevail on the tortious interference claim because there is no underlying improper conduct. View "Allen Beaulieu v. Clint Stockwell" on Justia Law
Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Thomson Sailors Homes, LLC
Designworks filed suit alleging that defendants violated its copyright in the registered design of a two-story home. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, concluding that defendants' home design was not a copy of the original Designworks home.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in granting defendants' motion for summary judgment because the works were so dissimilar that reasonable minds could not differ as to the absence of substantial similarity in expression in the designs. The court explained that there was no direct evidence of copyright infringement and there was no evidence of a substantial similarity of expression in the designs. In this case, the district court's order emphasized how unreasonable Designworks' litigating position had been, from completely failing to address the "significant objective differences" between the designs to producing nothing more than speculative evidence that anyone associated with defendants had accessed the Designworks house. The court also affirmed the district court's award of attorneys' fees and costs to defendants. View "Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Thomson Sailors Homes, LLC" on Justia Law
Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Columbia House of Brokers Realty, Inc.
Charles James and Designworks filed suit against real estate companies, as well as their affiliates and agents, claiming that defendants infringed their copyrights when they created and published certain floorplans without authorization. The district court granted defendants summary judgment on the infringement claims, as well as on plaintiffs' claims for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.The Eighth Circuit held that the copyright statute, 17 U.S.C. 120(a), does not provide a defense to a claim of infringement for real estate companies, their agents, and their contractors when they generate and publish floorplans of homes they list for sale. The court reasoned that the terms Congress used in section 120(a) have a certain quality in common—they all connote artistic expression. The court explained that floorplans, like the ones here, serve a functional purpose. The court noted that its decision does not preclude the district court on remand from considering whether some other defense might apply or whether plaintiffs have demonstrated a claim of copyright infringement in the first place. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grants of summary judgment to defendants on the primary infringement claim as well as on the claims for contributory and vicarious infringement, vacated the district court's orders awarding defendants costs and attorney's fees, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Designworks Homes, Inc. v. Columbia House of Brokers Realty, Inc." on Justia Law
MPAY Inc. v. Erie Custom Computer Applications, Inc.
MPAY, a Massachusetts corporation that develops and owns payroll-processing software that it licenses to its customers, appealed the district court's denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction against appellees. MPAY claimed that it was entitled to such relief based on its copyright-infringement and trade-secrets-misappropriation claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding that appellees demonstrated that their copying, disclosure, and possession of the source code were authorized by the Software Development and License Agreement that MPAY signed with its business partner. Therefore, MPAY has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its copyright infringement or trade-secrets-misappropriation claims, and the district court did not err in so concluding. The court also held that MPAY's assertion, that the district court erroneously concluded MPAY's harms were compensable with money damages and so were not irreparable, lacked merit. Furthermore, the balance of the equities and the public interest do not favor an injunction. The court remanded for further proceedings on the question of whether the contractors wrongfully sublicensed use of the software. View "MPAY Inc. v. Erie Custom Computer Applications, Inc." on Justia Law
Infogroup, Inc. v. DatabaseUSA.com LLC
The Eighth Circuit affirmed judgments against DatabaseUSA for copyright infringement and Vinod Gupta for breach of contract. After Gupta founded Infogroup, he and the company entered a separation agreement. Then Gupta found DatabaseUSA two years later.The court held that a reasonable juror, based on the evidence at trial, could have found Infogroup owned a valid copyright; a reasonable juror could have concluded that DatabaseUSA copied the original elements of Infogroup's work; and, because of spoliation, DatabaseUSA's two arguments against copying fail. Finally, the court affirmed the $11.2 million award for the copyright infringement claim and the $10 million award for the breach of contract claim. View "Infogroup, Inc. v. DatabaseUSA.com LLC" on Justia Law
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