Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Intellectual Property
Copeland v. Bieber
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
Posted in: Copyright, Entertainment & Sports Law, Intellectual Property
McAirlaids, Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp.
McAirlaids filed suit against Kimberly-Clark for trade-dress infringement and unfair competition under section 32(1)(a) and 43(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), 15 U.S.C. 1114(1)(a) and 1125(a), and Virginia law. McAirlaids produces "airlaid," a textile-like material composed of cellulose fiber. McAirlaids fuses shredded cellulose fiber ("fluff pulp") through a patented embossing process that produces a "pixel" pattern for its absorbent products. McAirlaids filed suit against Kimberly-Clark after Kimberly-Clark began using a similar dot pattern on its GoodNites bed mates, an absorbent product manufactured in a manner different from McAirlaid's pads. On appeal, McAirlaids appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Kimberly-Clark. The court concluded that McAirlaids has presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding the functionality of its pixel-pattern. In particular, deciding whether McAirlaid's embossing pattern affects the quality of its pads requires weighing evidence and making credibility determinations. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "McAirlaids, Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp." on Justia Law
Posted in: Intellectual Property, Trademark
Swatch AG v. Beehive Wholesale, LLC
Swatch is the owner of three U.S. registrations for the mark SWATCH and for materials bearing that mark. Beehive produces and sells watch bands and faces under the mark SWAP. On appeal, Swatch challenged the district court's denial of its opposition to Beehive's trademark application and dismissal of its related claims for federal, state, and common law trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition. The district court held that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's (TTAB) determinations were supported by substantial evidence; found facts based on evidence not presented to the TTAB under its authority under 15 U.S.C. 1071(b)(3); concluded that there was no likelihood of confusion between the two marks and likelihood that SWAP would dilute SWATCH; dismissed Swatch's infringement and unfair competition claims as a matter of law; and concluded that Beehive's mark was registrable because it was not merely descriptive. The court concluded that the district court properly reviewed Swatch's dilution-by-blurring claim entirely de novo; the district court also decided Swatch's trademark infringement and unfair competition claims, which were not before the TTAB, de novo; and, although the district court stated that it would apply an impermissible hybrid review to its likelihood of confusion and strength-of-the-mark analyses, there were more than sufficient facts recited in its opinion to support its findings. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Swatch AG v. Beehive Wholesale, LLC" on Justia Law
Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Ltd.
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
Dash v. Mayweather, Jr.
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
Metropolitan Regional Info. Sys. v. American Home Realty Network
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
VRCompliance LLC v. HomeAway, Inc.
HomeAway filed suit in the District Court of Travis County, Texas, against Eye Street and others, asserting, inter alia, state law claims for breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. Eye Street did not attempt to remove HomeAway's Texas suit to federal district court but, instead, filed its own action against HomeAway and others in federal district court. After HomeAway moved to dismiss Eye Street's action for improper venue or, alternatively, to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, the district court stayed the action pending the resolution of HomeAway's Texas lawsuit. On appeal, Eye Street challenged the propriety of the stay. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in staying Eye Street's action. Given the strong case for a stay under the United Capitol Insurance Co. v. Kapiloff factors and Eye Street's deliberate choice to forego removal, the district court's decision would be an appropriate exercise of discretion under either Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of America/Wilton v. Seven Falls Co. or Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "VRCompliance LLC v. HomeAway, Inc." on Justia Law
Georgia Pacific Consumer Products, LP v. von Drehle Corp.
In a trademark infringement dispute between Georgia-Pacific and von Drehle involving paper towels and "touchless" paper towel dispensers, the court vacated the district court's award of summary judgment in von Drehle's favor, and remanded the case for a jury determination of whether von Drehle was liable for contributory trademark infringement. Over three months later, von Drehle sought for the first time to amend its answer to include affirmative defenses of claim preclusion and issue preclusion. The court subsequently held that the district court erred in vacating the jury verdict and in awarding judgment in von Drehle's favor because: (1) von Drehle waived the preclusion defenses by failing to assert them in a timely manner; and (2) the district court erred in alternatively considering the preclusion defense sua sponte. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's award of judgment in von Drehle's favor, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to reinstate the jury's verdict in favor of Georgia-Pacific. View "Georgia Pacific Consumer Products, LP v. von Drehle Corp." on Justia Law
Building Graphics, Inc. v. Lennar Corp.
Plaintiff, an architecture firm that specialized in designing single family homes, alleged that Lennar's architectural plans infringed on its copyrights. The court held that plaintiff did not have sufficient evidence to support a finding that there existed a reasonable possibility that Lennar had access to its copyrighted plans. Accordingly, the district court correctly concluded that as a matter of law, plaintiff lacked the evidence necessary to sustain its claims of copyright infringement. View "Building Graphics, Inc. v. Lennar Corp." on Justia Law
Tire Engineering and Distribution, LLC. v. Shandong Linglong Rubber Co.
Alpha sued defendants, foreign corporations, alleging that defendants conspired to steal its tire blueprints, produce infringing tires, and sell them to entities that had formerly purchased products from Alpha. A jury found in favor of Alpha on all claims and the district court upheld the damages award against defendants' post-trial challenges. Defendants subsequently appealed, contesting the verdict and the district court's exercise of personal jurisdiction. The court initially held that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction over defendants. The court affirmed the district court's judgment that defendants were liable to Alpha under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., and for conversion under Virginia law, but the court dismissed the remaining theories of liability submitted to the jury. Accordingly, the court affirmed the jury's damages award. Finally, the court vacated the district court's award of attorneys' fees. View "Tire Engineering and Distribution, LLC. v. Shandong Linglong Rubber Co." on Justia Law