Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Copyright
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
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