Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Copyright
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Plaintiffs, twelve record companies, filed suit against defendant alleging claims for five separate violations of the Copyright Act. Plaintiffs are Delaware corporations, with eight having their principal place of business in New York, three in California, and one in Florida. Defendant, born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, is a Russian citizen who still resides in Rostov-on-Don. Defendant owns and operates websites that offer visitors a stream-ripping service through which audio tracks may be extracted from videos available on various platforms and converted into a downloadable format.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss, holding that defendant's contacts sufficiently show he purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in Virginia. Therefore, the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1) is appropriate if it is constitutionally reasonable. Because the district court did not perform a reasonability analysis in the first instance, the court remanded for the district court to do so. View "UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Kurbanov" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Violent Hues in a copyright infringement action brought by plaintiff, a commercial photographer, alleging that Violent Hues made an unlicensed use of one of his photographs on its website. The photograph at issue, "Adams Morgan at Night," was uploaded from the image-sharing website Flickr.The court rejected Violent Hues' fair use defense and held that none of the fair use factors weigh in favor of Violent Hues. In this case, Violent Hues' reproduction of the photo was non-transformative and commercial; the photo merits thick protection and the published status of the photo was not relevant here; and Violent Hues used roughly half of the photo and kept the most expressive features of the work. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Brammer v. Violent Hues Productions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a videographer, and his video production company, filed suit against North Carolina, alleging that plaintiff's copyrights were violated when North Carolina published video footage and a still photograph that he took of the 18th century wreck of a pirate ship that sank off the North Carolina coast. Plaintiff and his company also sought to declare unconstitutional a 2015 state law, N.C. Gen. Stat. 121-25(b), that provided that photographs and video recordings of shipwrecks in the custody of North Carolina are public records.The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss with prejudice the claims against the state officials in their individual capacities and to dismiss without prejudice the remaining claims. The court held that North Carolina did not waive its sovereign immunity when it signed the 2013 Settlement Agreement; the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act did not validly abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity; and the Ex parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity did not apply in this case. View "Allen v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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BMG filed suit against Cox, alleging copyright infringement, seeking to hold Cox contributorily liable for infringement of BMG's copyrights by subscribers to Cox's Internet service. On appeal, Cox argued that the district court erred in denying it the safe harbor defense and incorrectly instructed the jury. The Fifth Circuit held that Cox was not entitled to the safe harbor defense under section 512(a) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(a), because it failed to implement its policy in any consistent or meaningful way. The court held that the district court did erred in charging the jury as to the intent necessary to prove contributory infringement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "BMG Rights Management v. Cox Communications" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of competition in the market for software used to manage and analyze large and complex datasets. SAS filed suit against WPL, alleging that WPL breached a license agreement for SAS software and violated copyrights on that software. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment finding WPL liable for beach of the license agreement, holding that the contractual terms at issue were unambiguous and that SAS has shown that WPL violated those terms. The court vacated the portion of the district court's ruling on the copyright claim and remanded with instructions to dismiss it as moot. View "SAS Institute, Inc. v. World Programming Ltd." on Justia Law

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HPA filed suit against Lessard, Clark, Penrose, and Northwestern, alleging that the design, development, ownership, and construction of Two Park Crest, an apartment building in McLean, Virginia, infringed HPA’s architectural copyright embodied in Grant Park, a condominium building in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, primarily because no reasonable jury could find that the Grant Park and Two Park Crest designs are substantially similar. The court concluded that the district court did not err in considering expert reports where the reports were were sworn to in declarations; at bottom, HPA failed to carry its burden of identifying a specific similarity between the Two Park Crest design and the protected elements of its Grant Park design; because HPA failed to present nonconclusory evidence that the designs are extrinsically similar, the court rejected HPA’s claim that the district court failed to credit its extrinsic-similarity evidence; and the court rejected HPA's claims that the district court misapplied relevant copyright law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Humphreys & Partners Architects v. Lessard Design, Inc." on Justia Law

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Devin Copeland, a musician, filed suit under the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., against Justin Bieber and Usher Raymond IV, alleging that three recorded songs by defendants, each titled "Somebody to Love," infringe upon Copeland's copyright over his own, earlier song of the same name. On appeal, Copeland challenged the dismissal of his claim. The district court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Copeland's song and defendants' songs sufficiently similar to give rise to liability for infringement. At issue was whether the songs at issue, assessed from the perspective of the intended audience - here, the general public - and taking into account their “total concept and feel,” are sufficiently intrinsically similar to give rise to a valid infringement claim. After listening to the Copeland song and the Bieber and Usher songs as wholes, the court concluded that their choruses are similar enough and also significant enough that a reasonable jury could find the songs intrinsically similar. Further, the choruses of the Copeland song and the Bieber and Usher songs are sufficiently important to the songs’ overall effect that they may be the basis for a finding of intrinsic similarity. The court declined to reach Copeland’s other arguments. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Copeland v. Bieber" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a dispute over the Baltimore Ravens "Flying B" logo. After the Ravens had played their first season in 1997, plaintiff filed his first lawsuit against them and the NFL, alleging that the logo infringed the copyright in three of his drawings. In this appeal, plaintiff challenged the NFL's use of the logo in three videos featured on its television network and various websites, as well as the Baltimore Ravens' display of images that included the logo as part of exhibits in its stadium "Club Level" seating area. The court affirmed the district court's finding that defendants' limited use of the logo qualified as fair use. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Ltd." on Justia Law

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Anthony Lawrence Dash filed suit against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Mayweather Promotions, Mayweather Promotions LLC, Philthy Rich Records, Inc., and World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), alleging that defendants violated his copyright by playing a variant of Dash's copyrighted music during Mayweather's entrance to two WWE events. On appeal, Dash challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment and its denial of reconsideration with respect to his entitlement to actual and profit damages under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 504(b). The court found that an expert's report's, (the Einhorn Report) estimation of Dash's lost licensing fee, without more, was too speculative to show that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict" in Dash's favor on his actual damages claim, and therefore, summary judgment was appropriate; even if the Einhorn Report had suggested or even expressly concluded that the use of Dash's beat at WWE events was of some value to defendants, summary judgment would still be appropriate because the evidence supporting such conclusion was overly speculative in light of the record before the court and, therefore, was insufficient to establish a genuine dispute regarding Dash's actual damages; and the district court properly granted defendant summary judgment on Dash's claim for profit damages because Dash provided the factfinder with no reasonable basis for concluding that the infringement contributed to defendants' profits. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Dash v. Mayweather, Jr." on Justia Law

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AHRN appealed the district court's entry of a preliminary injunction order prohibiting AHRN's display of MRIS's photographs on AHRN's referral website. The parties are competitors in the real estate listing business and MRIS contended that AHRN's unauthorized use of its copyrighted material constituted infringement under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq. The court concluded that MRIS was not barred from asserting infringement of its copyrighted photographs, which were registered as component works in its automated database registrations; MRIS was likely to succeed against AHRN in establishing its ownership of copyright interests in the copied photographs; and, therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Metropolitan Regional Info. Sys. v. American Home Realty Network" on Justia Law