Articles Posted in Copyright Litigation

Plaintiff Dennis Morris is a renowned photographer and artist well known for his photographs of musicians and cultural icons. Morris is the owner of all copyrights in photographs he took of musicians Sid Vicious and John Lydon of The Sex Pistols band. Morris filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against artist Elizabeth Peyton and retailer Target for unauthorized use of the photographs in creating derivative artwork reproduced on merchandise sold throughout the United States. A side by side comparison of Morris’ photographs and the accused artwork is provided below:

copyright-infringement-photograph-morris-artist-elizabeth-peyton-sex-pistols.jpgThe complaint seeks unspecified damages, but seeks “disgorgement of each Defendant’s profits directly and indirectly attributable to said Defendant’s infringement of the Subject Photographs” in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs.

To establish copyright infringement, Morris must prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying by defendants of protectable elements of the work. Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton, 212 F.3d 477, 481 (9th Cir. 2000). Where, there is no direct evidence of copying, the second element requires plaintiff to prove both that the defendants had access to the plaintiffs copyrighted work and that there is substantial similarity of protected expression between the copyrighted work and defendants work. Three Boys Music Corp., 212 F.3d at 481. Morris’ photographs are ubiquitous and a Google image search for “The Sex Pistols” produces the subject photographs in the results. Further, where the accused works are strikingly similar – e.g., reproduction of the artwork from the photographed shirt in the accused work, access may be automatically established. Three Boys Music Corp., 212 F.3d at 485 (even where there is no proof of access, the copyright holder may prove copying by showing that the copyright holder’s and alleged infringer’s works are “strikingly similar.”)

copyright-toy-attorney-trade-dress-fairy-spin-master.jpgFlying toy manufacturer, Spin Master, is suing its former technology company and its new business affiliates for allegedly infringing Spin Master’s Flutterbye flying toy fairy’s copyrights and trade dress by selling the competing Starfly fairy. Indeed, the two companies are no strangers to litigation and are currently engaged in a patent infringement lawsuit in Illinois involving remote controlled airplanes and helicopters. Here, Spin Master claims to have introduced the Flutterbye toy in 2013, which fairy doll incorporates a new technology that allows a customer to control the flying fairy using only one’s palm. Spin Master asserts that the Flutterbye received numerous top toy awards and has been a commercial success. The Flutterbye fairy figurine has been copyrighted and several other copyright applications are pending for the flower designs, stardust, and packaging.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants approached Plaintiff about a possible collaboration to distribute the toy outside of the United States, which Plaintiff declined. Plaintiff contends that “after seeing the success of Spin Master’s Flutterbye fairy toy, and rather than independently creating a distinct product, Defendants Brix, CYI and Rehco together engaged in a plan to create a look-alike flying fairy product in an attempt to unfairly capitalize on Spin Master’s success.” Aside from copying original elements of the toy itself, Plaintiff claims that Defendants use confusingly similar packaging and marketing channels, including similar YouTube commercials.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xC3Som20tBE

photograph-copyright-attorney-playboy-kate-moss-le-book.jpgFor its sixtieth anniversary issue, Playboy commissioned noted fashion photographers Marcus Pigott and Mert Atlas to photograph Kate Moss to grace its cover. The photos have received widespread critical acclaim and praise as instant classics, and Playboy sought to timely register the pictures with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Defendant Le Book’s website bills itself as a leading provider, curator and portal for photography, film, video production and event-related services” for over 50,000 creative professionals, including “the most famous famed photographers, art directors, stylists and model agencies; the most lauded producers, locational finders, photo labs, rental studios, event spaces and caterers; the pre-eminent record labels, magazines, advertising agencies, fashion designers and PR firms.” Playboy alleges that despite Le Book’s sophistication on copyright matters in the industry, Le Book has violated federal copyright laws by posting the infringing Kate Moss photos to its website:

[Le Book has] reproduced, distributed and publicly displayed high-resolution copies of the Playboy cover with Kate Moss and the entire 18 page-spread featuring the photos of Kate Moss in toto, including the entire text and interview with Kate Moss…The brazenness of the infringement is further magnified by the fact that the infringement appears to be the product of direct, high resolution reproduction/scanning of Playboy’s magazine, as even the page numbers therefrom appear in the infringing images…Defendants have not just willfully and directly infringed Playboy’s copyrights; they have also enabled and facilitated countless act of infringement by third parties.

copyright-attorney-trademark-infringement-lawsuit-hello-kitty-sanrio.jpgThe Hello Kitty character has been around for more than fifty years and numerous other related characters and designs have been copyrighted by Sanrio. In fact, Sanrio’s website has a page listing all of its copyrights. Sanrio aggressively protects both its copyrights and trademarks related to the Hello Kitty characters, even suing a children’s beauty pageant organizer for copyright infringement for using the Hello Kitty doll on its tiaras and trophies. Maybe that’s a good thing if you’ve seen how much these beauty pageants charge parents for the illusion of their kid’s success and to prevent exploitation. But more importantly, to prevent the next Honey Booboo from being thrust upon society. To protect myself from such a lawsuit, the image to the right displays some of the characters at issue in this lawsuit and was taken from Sanrio’s website.

Defendants Blink & Blink, Inc. and its officers are accused of selling jewelry and other products that incorporate a cast of Hello Kitty characters: “This case concerns the concerted, systematic and wholesale theft of various world-famous intellectual properties owned by Plaintiff. Defendants are engaged in the manufacture, importation, distribution, promotion, sale and/or offer for sale of bracelets, rings, earrings, necklaces, and other personal accessories, which incorporate unauthorized likenesses of animated or live action characters owned by Plaintiff, including, but not necessarily limited to, Hello Kitty (collectively “Infringing Product”).” The suit seeks unspecified damages, but requests that actual damages be trebled pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1117.

The case is Sanrio, Inc. v. Blink & Blink, Inc., et al., CV13-08948 PJW (C.D. Cal. 2013).

how-to-protect-jewelry-trdemark-patent-copyright-attorney-chan-luu.jpgChan Luu, Inc.’s jewelry trademark infringement, copyright infringement, and unfair competition lawsuit arises from Victoria Emerson’s sales of wrap bracelets. Just this week two different jewelry designers inquired, after receiving cease-and-desist letters, whether jewelry designs were entitled to trademark and copyright protection. After explaining not only are jewelry designs entitled to copyright, trademark and trade dress protection, but also entitled to design patent and possibly utility patent protection, the enlightened jewelry designers recognized the value of obtaining intellectual property protection for their own designs. And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Plaintiff contends that because of its extensive use of the Chan Luu trademark on jewelry, clothing, and accessories, consumers recognize the mark as a source of high quality products. Plaintiff also has several USPTO registered Chan Luu trademarks. In addition, Plaintiff allegedly owns the exclusive trademark rights to its purportedly distinctive curved oval button that serves as the closure for many of the bracelets, which it has used since 2002. Defendants are accused of using the curved oval button trademark in addition to using the Chan Luu trademark, including buying the word mark as an Adword.

The copyright infringement claim, however, is based on Chan Luu’s registration of collections of photographs instead of copyright registrations for the jewelry pieces themselves. Defendants are accused of copying Chan Luu’s product photographs and using the photographs on defendant’s website www.victoriaemerson.com. Plaintiff seeks unspecified monetary damages in addition to preliminary and permanent injunction preventing Defendants’ use of the copyrighted images and the Chan Luu word mark and the oval button trademark.

copyright-attorney-infringement-jewelry-necklace-halloween-von-erickson.jpgPlaintiff, Von Erickson Laboratories LLC, has conjured up a copyright infringement lawsuit that is sure to terrify numerous defendants for allegedly infringing its Halloween themed jewelry. Plaintiff is the owner of several U.S. Copyright Registrations for several pieces of jewelry, including a “stitches necklace,” a “blood drip necklace,” and their derivative works. Plaintiff makes the jewelry by hand by creating a mold from the structure and pouring molten vinyl into the mold, which vinyl can be dyed to any desired color. Plaintiff asserts that none of the defendants had any jewelry pieces remotely resembling Plaintiff’s products prior to Plaintiff’s creation, publication, and distribution of its products.

Defendants M&J Trimming Company and Papillon Accessories allegedly had access to Plaintiff’s designs because they previously ordered the stitches necklace from Plaintiff. Plaintiff contends that defendants’ stitches necklace are identical except for the functional closures. Functional features are not relevant in a copyright infringement analysis because they generally cannot be copyrighted.

jewelry-copyright-attorney-necklace-stitches.jpgFurther, although not identical, Plaintiff asserts that defendants’ blood drip necklace is substantially similar to Plaintiff’s blood drip necklaces.

Halloween-copyright-infringement-attorney-skull-design-cup-spencer.jpgCool Gear filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Spencer Gifts and Spirit Halloween Superstores for selling cups incorporating Cool Gear’s copyrighted three-dimensional skull. The skull qualifies as a three-dimensional work of visual art and is entitled to copyright protection and registration. Indeed, Cool Gear is the owner of U.S. Copyright Registration No. VA 1-876-232 for the work titled “Three Dimensional Representation of A Skull.” The complaint alleges:

Defendants, without the permission or consent of Plaintiff, have manufactured and sold, and continue to manufacture and sell, a plastic tumbler product with a three-dimensional skull insert that is substantially identical to the Copyrighted Work (the “Infringing Work”). . . In doing so, Defendants have violated Plaintiff’s exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution. Defendants’ actions constitute infringement of Plaintiff’s copyrights and exclusive rights under copyright law.

It seems like Halloween season scares up a new Halloween themed lawsuit every year, including 2011’s Power Rangers Halloween costume trademark and copyright infringement lawsuit. Plaintiff seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing defendants’ sales of the accused cups, in addition to unspecified monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

copyright-dismiss-prejudice-lawsuit-tv-show-animal-practice-nbc-duckhole.jpgDefendants in questionable infringement cases should rejoice because another judge has dismissed – with prejudice – at the early stages of litigation a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against NBC’s Animal Practice television show. The litigation lasted longer than the seven weeks the show was on the air before being cancelled. Last year, Judge Real also dismissed with prejudice a questionable trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Spearmint Rhino against Chiappa guns for using a rhino logo on a gun, finding that there is no way consumers are likely to be confused by the respective rhino logos on disparate goods and services.

This time Judge O’Connell determined that Paul Andre’s seven-page copyrighted treatment for PETS, a sitcom set in an after-hours veterinary clinic, could not maintain a copyright infringement claim despite despite an opportunity to file a First Amended Complaint. The Court took judicial notice of common elements of a veterinary hospital, including an operating room, examining room, a lobby, and pets, and also took judicial notice of the tone that is common to comedic television shows, such as the pace and romantic relationships. If “the copyrighted work and the alleged infringement are both before the court, capable of examination and comparison, non-infringement can be determined on a motion to dismiss.” Christianson v. West Pub. Co., 149 F.2d 202, 203 (9th Cir. 1945).

The Court found that the elements alleged by Andre were too generic to be protectable and are scenes a faire flowing from an animal hospital. Funky Films, v. Time Warner Ent., 462 F.3d 1072, 1081 (9th Cir. 2006) (holding that there was no protection for similar plots involving “the family-run funeral home, the father’s death, and the return of the ‘prodigal son,’ who assists his brother in maintaining the family business”). The Court found that Animal Practice and PETS had distinct plots without any similarity, “much less substantial similarity, between any expressive elements in the works.” In PETS, the characters worked in an after-hours clinic in L.A. that was always strapped for cash and had interwoven courtroom scenes describing how the pets were injured. In Animal Practice, the characters worked at a NY city hospital catering to the wealthy and focused more on the relationships of the staff and owners than the pets. Thus, the commonalities between the situations and incidents in the two works “flow naturally from [the] basic plot premise” of a television show about an animal hospital. Berkic v. Crichton, 761 F.2d 1289, 1293 (9th Cir. 1985). Even two similar story fragments of “a Halloween costume contest for pets at the clinic, and an issue about a pet eating chocolate,” did not provide a basis for substantial similarity because Animal Practice’s expressive details of the story idea was different.

copyright-infringement-movie-bullet-film-funimation-lyon.jpgProducers of the “Bullet” movie will attempt to dodge a lawsuit filed by Nicholas Lyon for copyright infringement, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory fraud, intentional interference with contractual relations, and unfair competition. Lyon contends that he entered into an agreement with American United Media and SC Films International to develop and produce the Bullet motion picture based on a script written by him, which script he intelligently registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Writers, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, file your script with the WGA instead of the Copyright Office. Click here for a detailed explanation. Venting aside, the complaint alleges that Lyon was to receive “A Nick Lyon Film” credit on all posters, DVD covers and advertisements for the motion picture, in addition to receiving 30% of net receipts.

Lyon alleges that merely two days after execution of his agreement, American United Media and FUNimation entered into a deal memo for AUM to “produce and deliver” the motion picture, without any mention of Lyon’s rights, and granting FUNimation 50% equity in the movie. After this purportedly secret agreement was signed, plaintiff alleges that he was falsely convinced to assign his script’s copyrights to Bullet Film Production LLC, which LLC is owned by AUM, FUNimation, and SC Films to the exclusion of Lyon. Lyon alleges that the LLC’s operating agreement violates his agreement which prohibited AUM from entering into any agreement which would impair, interfere, or conflict with the terms of his agreement.

Once shooting began, Lyon contends that he was provided an “Agreement for Directing Services” by the LLC and not afforded an opportunity to consult with an attorney before execution. Instead, he was informed that if he did not immediately sign the agreement, production would be terminated. Lyon also contends that he never received an explanation regarding why he was omitted from ownership of the LLC and was not compensated for his services. Further, Lyon has become aware that the motion picture is being edited by a third party and is being readied for distribution, despite assurances that it had been vaulted while the legal issues are pending. Lyon is seeking unspecified damages.

chinese-copyright-attorney-sue-television-series-lawsuit-license-beijing-ciwen.jpgBeijing Ciwen Film and Television Production Co., Ltd. is the owner of a Chinese copyright registration for forty episodes of the Chinese language television series, whose title translates to “Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain,” which was created and filmed in China. When filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in the U.S., a U.S. copyright registration is a prerequisite for works created in the U.S. But when the U.S. joined the Berne Convention on March 1, 1989, the Copyright Act was revised to allow the copyright owner in any foreign work of a country that is also a signatory to the Berne Convention to file suit in a United States District Court without proof of a U.S. copyright registration. Cambridge Univ. Press v. Becker, 863 F. Supp. 2d 1190, 1245 (N.D. Ga. 2012).

Beijing Ciwen alleges that it signed a Copyright Sale Agreement with Bright Media granting it licenses and exclusive rights to the series in territories outside of China for a five-year term, without the right of renewal. The complaint states that Bright Media then entered into an exclusive copyright license agreement with Woodward Management for a non-renewable five-year term for the U.S. and Canadian territories. Beijing Ciwen contends that after the license expired on January 19, 2012, That Woodward Dynasty’s affiliated companies, Defendant U2 Entertainment and Tai Sang Entertainment, entered into a copyright licensing agreement with Dynasty Group to improperly distribute and telecast episodes one through forty of the series. Beijing Ciwen allegedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to defendants that the telecast of the series was without license or authorization and constituted copyright infringement. But to date, defendants have refused to cease broadcasts of the series. The copyright infringement lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against the defendants and an award of Plaintiff’s reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs of the litigation pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505.

The case is Beijing Ciwen film and Television Production Co., Ltd., v. New Tang Dynasty, et al., CV13-05978 SVW (C.D. Cal. 2013).