Copyrights and Trademarks

A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the Nevada District Court’s ruling that the play Jersey Boys did not infringe plaintiff’s copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito – a member of the Four Seasons – as the play did not copy any protectable aspects of the autobiography. See Corbello v. Valli, 974 F.3d 965 (9th Cir. 2020).

The Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys musical tracks the history of the chart-topping quartet the Four Seasons. The play follows band members Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Tommy DeVito from their meager beginnings singing under streetlights in New Jersey through their meteoric rise to stardom with songs such as “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and of course “Sherry.”


Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Panel Adopts “Asserted Truths” Doctrine in Holding Jersey Boys Musical Does Not Infringe Copyright

On October 27, 2020, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment ruling that scenes from the Netflix series Narcos did not infringe a Colombian journalist’s copyrighted memoir, agreeing that “no reasonable jury could find that the two works are substantially similar.” See Vallejo v Narcos Productions LLC, No. 19-14894, 2020 WL 6281501, at *9 (11th Cir. Oct. 27, 2020) (per curiam).

Virginia Vallejo, a Colombian journalist, authored the memoir Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar). In the memoir, Ms. Vallejo recounted her romantic affair with infamous drug trafficker Pablo Escobar and described the rise of Colombian drug cartels. Two chapters of the memoir were considered in the case: “The Caress of a Revolver” and “That Palace in Flames.”


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Says Netflix Series Does Not Infringe Copyrighted Memoir

With the rise of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the demand for online content has increased exponentially. Given this new reality, online content creators must take steps to ensure that their online creations don’t land them in legal hot water. One of the most prevalent cross-industry issues is music licensing. Music is everywhere in online content and often plays an integral part in the overall experience. From video game players streaming music as they show off their skills on the largest video platforms to fitness instructors using popular music to pump up their workout classes, individuals and companies must ensure that they don’t run afoul of the copyright laws when they incorporate music into their online content.

Continue Reading Legal Implications of Syncing Copyrighted Music with Other Content

Among the countless casualties of COVID-19, many much-anticipated events had to be canceled. Instead, some of the world’s largest entertainment industry events are becoming virtual experiences.

Comic Con, which boasts over 135,000 annual attendees, announced that its in-person convention will be replaced in 2020 by a virtual experience. Lollapalooza, an annual music festival in Chicago, will also be virtual this summer. Even the venerable Cannes Film Festival has moved online.

These virtual formats pose new legal challenges, however, including cybersecurity threats, consumer privacy policies, and music licensing.
Continue Reading Virtual Events Raise Real World Legal Issues

On April 13, 2020, a federal district court in the Southern District of New York[1] held in Sinclair v. Ziff Davis, LLC, and Mashable, Inc., 180CV0790 (KMW) (Order), that an Instagram user who posted a photograph to a public account effectively gave Instagram the right to sublicense her photographs to a third party.  The Court held that the user therefore had no viable claim against the third party for copyright infringement.

The plaintiff user in this case was professional photographer Stephanie Sinclair (Plaintiff).  The co-defendant who licensed the photograph from Instagram was Mashable, Inc., a media and entertainment site (Mashable).  Plaintiff sued both Mashable and its parent company, Ziff Davis, LLC, for copyright infringement.


Continue Reading Instagram Users: Post at Your Own Risk. Your Public Content May Be Legally Sublicensed

The perfect addition to any project is music. Whether you are making a video advertisement for your product; including music in your posts on your company website, TikTok, or YouTube; posting an at-home workout video for your clients; using music at corporate events; or playing music at your bar or restaurant – music is a vital part of society. Music is also the most common reason your content may be muted or taken down from social media, in addition to being exposed to potential liability for copyright infringement and related monetary damages. When you use someone’s music without their permission, absent a few extremely limited exceptions, you are infringing on their copyright.1

For the vast majority of music uses, you will first need to obtain permission. In this article, we lay out some fundamentals to assist in determining the type of license an average company would need and some potential alternatives. Bottom line: when you are planning and budgeting for music in a project, make sure you get the proper rights and permissions in place before pressing “Play.”


Continue Reading Conducting Your Way Through Music Licensing: The Most Common Issues

In its second copyright opinion this term, the U.S. Supreme Court held 5–4 that the “government edicts doctrine” prevents states from owning copyrights in annotated codes.  See Georgia et al. v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., No. 18-1150, 590 U.S. ___ (Apr. 27, 2020).  Chief Justice Roberts authored the majority opinion, and Justice Thomas and Justice Ginsburg penned dissents.

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) contains every current Georgia statute (i.e., all of Georgia’s laws), along with non-binding annotations explaining each statute (e.g., summaries of judicial opinions applying the statutes or references to relevant secondary sources).  The OCGA is created by Georgia’s Code Revision Commission, which is a part of the state’s legislative branch.  By virtue of the Commission’s work, the state of Georgia claimed a copyright in the annotations within the OCGA—i.e., the parts of the OCGA other than the statutes themselves.  Thus, when Public.Resource.Org (PRO) posted the OCGA online and distributed copies to others, Georgia sued PRO for copyright infringement.
Continue Reading SCOTUS Says States Cannot Copyright Annotated Codes

Fortnite: Battle Royale (Fortnite), the highest-earning game in 2019 at $1.8 billion, continues to drive the world of esports.1 Epic Games, its development company, provided $100 million in cash winnings for its summer World Cup, the finals for which took place at Arthur Ashe Stadium in July. The Sunday finale of the event was, according to Epic, the most-watched competitive gaming event (excluding China) of all time. 2 Part of the Fortnite game’s success is due to its creative and memorable celebratory dances known as emotes. Many of these emotes, often inspired by real-world examples from movies, TV series, and social media, enjoy a life beyond the game, as celebrities perform them and athletes use them to celebrate goals and victories.

This high level of success and popularity has inevitably also made the game an inviting target for litigation. In the past eighteen months, several cases have been brought against the company regarding some of the game’s most popular emotes. These cases provide insight for gamers and game developers into potential claims they may face and how to appropriately clear rights and avoid claims.


Continue Reading Gaming Emote Litigation: Battle Royale Ensues Over Fortnite Emotes with Plaintiffs Testing Different Causes of Action

On March 23, 2020, the United States Supreme Court held that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA) is unconstitutional and therefore invalid. See Allen v. Cooper, No. 18-877, 589 U.S. ___ (2020). Prior to Allen, the CRCA provided a means for individuals to sue states for copyright infringement by expressly abrogating the states’ sovereign immunity in that realm. But as a result of the Court’s recent decision, states are once again totally immune from copyright infringement lawsuits.

The facts of Allen date back to 1718, when the infamous pirate Blackbeard ran his flagship vessel (the Queen Anne’s Revenge) aground on a sandbar off the coast of what is now North Carolina, causing the ship to sink. The shipwreck was discovered nearly 300 years later, and due to its location, the wreck itself is owned by North Carolina state. Upon learning of the discovery, the state of North Carolina hired a salvage company to excavate the wreck, which in turn hired Allen to document the numerous recovery missions. For over a decade, Allen photographed and filmed the underwater missions to salvage the shipwreck, and Allen registered copyrights in all of the works. This dispute arose from Allen’s claims that North Carolina had infringed some of those copyrights by using and reproducing Allen’s photographs and videos online without his permission. See Allen, No. 18-877, slip op. at 1–2.


Continue Reading Fair Winds to Copyright Holders: States Have Sovereign Immunity from Infringement Suits

Critics of increasingly restrictive effects of copyright law in musical production can seek solace in the recent Southern District of New York copyright decision of Guity v. Santos, et al., No. 18-cv-10387 (SDNY Dec. 05, 2019) (“Order”).

The district court ultimately granted defendants’ motion to dismiss copyright infringement claims brought by musician Nazim Guity against Anthony (Romeo) Santos, Sony, Alcover, and We Loud. Guity claimed that defendants “recorded, released, and profited” from his copyrighted work. Order at 1. The accused song shares the name “Eres Mia” with the protected work, a 2011 song by Guity. Guity collaborated with Alcover and We Loud in creating “Eres Mia” and procured copyright protection in 2014. Santos worked with Alcover and We Loud as well in creating Santos’s “Eres Mia” and later with Sony for the song’s marketing and distribution.

Guity specifically alleged that defendants were guilty of 1) copyright infringement by failing to obtain a mechanical license and/or failure to pay a compulsory license fee; 2) copyright infringement by claiming to compose, author, record, and distribute a copyrightable song; and 3) civil conspiracy to commit copyright infringement; and further alleged 4) plaintiffs were entitled to the equitable remedies of accounting and constructive trust. Id. at 2.
Continue Reading SDNY Helps Draw the Boundaries of Copyright Protection in Music Cases