Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Copyright
by
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) includes the text of every Georgia statute currently in force. Non-binding annotations appear beneath each statutory provision, typically including summaries of judicial opinions construing each provision, summaries of pertinent attorney general opinions, and a list of related law review articles and other reference materials. The OCGA is assembled by the Code Revision Commission, a state entity composed mostly of legislators, funded through legislative branch appropriations, and staffed by the Office of Legislative Counsel. The current OCGA annotations were produced by a private publisher, pursuant to a work-for-hire agreement, which states that any copyright in the OCGA vests in the state, acting through the Commission. A nonprofit, dedicated to facilitating public access to government records and legal materials, posted the OCGA online and distributed copies. The Commission sued for infringement under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 102(a).The Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court held that OCGA annotations are ineligible for copyright protection. Under the government edicts doctrine, officials empowered to speak with the force of law cannot be the authors of the works they create in the course of their official duties. The Court noted long-standing precedent that an official reporter cannot hold a copyright interest in opinions created by judges; no one can own the law. The doctrine applies to whatever work legislators perform in their capacity as legislators, including explanatory and procedural materials they create in the discharge of their legislative duties. The sole “author” of the annotations is the Commission, which functions as an arm of the Georgia Legislature and creates the annotations in the discharge of its legislative duties. The Court focused on authorship, stating that Georgia’s characterization of the OCGA annotations as non-binding and non-authoritative undersells the practical significance of the annotations to litigants and citizens. View "Georgia v. Public Resource.Org, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Team sells materials to help individuals profit in multi-level marketing businesses. Doe anonymously runs the “Amthrax” blog, in which he criticizes multi-level marketing companies and Team. Doe posted a hyperlink to a downloadable copy of the entirety of “The Team Builder’s Textbook,” copyrighted by Team. After Team served the blog’s host with a take-down notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 512, Doe removed the hyperlink. Team filed suit, seeking only injunctive relief and that the court identify Doe. Doe asserted fair-use and copyright-misuse defenses and that he has a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The court ultimately entered summary judgment for Team, found that unmasking Doe “was unnecessary to ensure that defendant would not engage in future infringement” and that “defendant has already declared ... that he has complied with the proposed injunctive relief” by destroying the copies of the Textbook in his possession such that “no further injunctive relief is necessary.” The Sixth Circuit remanded with respect to unmasking Doe; the district court failed to recognize the presumption in favor of open judicial records. View "Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe" on Justia Law

by
In this copyright dispute involving the satellite-radio broadcasting of certain pre-1972 sound recordings, the Supreme Court accepted for review four questions of Florida law certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The dispute specifically concerned rights of sound recordings of performances of musical works as distinct from rights in the composition of such works, and the primary question presented was whether Florida common law recognizes an exclusive right to public performance in pre-1972 sound recordings. The Supreme Court combined and rephrased the first two certified question into a single determinative question and held (1) Florida common law does not recognize an exclusive right of public performance in pre-1972 sound recordings; and (2) Plaintiff’s remaining claims failed under Florida law. View "Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

by
“Musical work” and the owner’s exclusive right to perform the work in public are protected by 17 U.S.C. 106(4). Broadcast of a musical work is a performance and requires a license from the copyright owner. Copyright Act amendments afford the copyright owner of a sound recording “the narrow but exclusive right ‘to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.’” The law requires “certain digital music services . . . to pay recording companies and recording artists when they transmit[] sound recordings” and provides for appointment of three Copyright Royalty Judges. If sound recording copyrights owners are unable to negotiate a royalty with digital music services, the Judges may set reasonable rates and terms. The Judges set royalty rates and defined terms for statutorily defined satellite digital audio radio services (SDARS) and preexisting subscription services (PSS). SoundExchange, which collects and distributes royalties to copyright owners, argued that the Judges set rates too low and erred in defining “Gross Revenues” and eligible deductions for SDARS. A PSS that provides music-only television channels appealed, arguing that PSS rates were set too high. The D.C. Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Judges of the Board acted within their broad discretion and on a sufficient record. View "Music Choice v. Copyright Royalty Bd." on Justia Law

by
While a student at University of Wisconsin in 1969, Soglin attended the first Mifflin Street Block Party. Now in his seventh term as Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, Soglin wants to shut down the annual event. For the 2012 Block Party, Sconnie sold 54 t-shirts and tank tops displaying an image of Soglin’s face and the phrase “Sorry for Partying.” Photographer Kienitz accused Sconnie of copyright infringement. Sconnie conceded starting with a photograph that Kienitz took at Soglin’s inauguration that it downloaded from the city’s website. The picture was posterized, background was removed, and Soglin’s face was turned lime green and surrounded by multi-colored writing. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, applying the fair use statutory defense to infringement, 17 U.S.C. 107. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that a shirt is no substitute for the original photograph; Kienitz does not argue that defendants reduced demand for the original work or any use that he is contemplating. Defendants removed so much of the original that, “as with the Cheshire Cat, only the smile remains.” What is left, besides a hint of Soglin’s smile, is the outline of his face, which cannot be copyrighted. Defendants chose the design as a form of political commentary, not for profit. View "Kienitz v. Sconnie Nation, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Copyright Act of 1976 gives a copyright owner the “exclusive righ[t]” to “perform the copyrighted work publicly,” 17 U.S.C. 106(4), including the right to “transmit or otherwise communicate ... the [copyrighted] work ... to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance ... receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times,” section 101. Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet. Aereo’s server tunes an antenna, which is dedicated to the use of one subscriber, to the broadcast carrying the selected show. A transcoder translates the signals received by an antenna into data that can be transmitted over the Internet. A server saves the data in a subscriber-specific folder and streams the show to the subscriber, a few seconds behind the over-the-air broadcast. The owners of program copyrights unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that Aereo was infringing their right to “perform” their copyrighted works “publicly.” The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that Aereo performs the works within the meaning of section 101 and does not merely supply equipment that allows others to do so. The Court noted that the Act was amended in 1976 to make the law applicable to community antenna television (CATV) providers by clarifying that an entity that acts like a CATV system “performs,” even when it only enhances viewers’ ability to receive broadcast television signals. Aereo’s activities are similar; it sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast. That Aereo’s system remains inert until a subscriber indicates that she wants to watch a program is not critical. Aereo transmits a performance whenever its subscribers watch a program. The Court stated that when an entity communicates the same contemporaneously perceptible images and sounds to multiple people, it “transmit[s] ... a performance” to them, regardless of the number of discrete communications it makes and whether it makes an individual personal copy for each viewer. Aero subscribers are “the public” under the Act: a large number of people, unrelated and unknown to each other. View "Am. Broad. Cos. v. Aereo, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Wiley, an academic publisher, often assigns to its foreign subsidiary (WileyAsia) rights to publish, print, and sell Wiley’s English language textbooks abroad. WileyAsia’s books state that they are not to be taken (without permission) into the U.S. When Kirtsaeng moved to the U.S., he asked friends to buy foreign edition English-language textbooks in Thai book shops, where they sold at low prices, and mail them to him. He sold the books at a profit. Wiley claimed that Kirtsaeng’s unauthorized importation and resale was an infringement of Wiley’s 17 U.S.C. 106(3) exclusive rights to distribute its copyrighted work and section 602’s import prohibition. Kirtsaeng cited section 109(a)’s “first sale” doctrine, which provides that “the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title ... is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” The district court held that the defense did not apply to goods manufactured abroad. The jury found that Kirtsaeng had willfully infringed Wiley’s American copyrights and assessed damages. The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that section 109(a)’s “lawfully made under this title” language indicated that the “first sale” doctrine does not apply to copies of American copyrighted works manufactured abroad. The Supreme Court reversed; the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. Section 109(a) says nothing about geography. A geographical interpretation of the first-sale doctrine could re¬quire libraries to obtain permission before circulating the many books in their collections that were printed overseas; potential practical problems are too serious, extensive, and likely to come about to be dismissed as insignificant—particularly in light of the ever-growing importance of foreign trade to America. View "Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Copyright Act of 1976 gives a copyright owner the “exclusive righ[t]” to “perform the copyrighted work publicly,” 17 U.S.C. 106(4), including the right to “transmit or otherwise communicate ... the [copyrighted] work ... to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance ... receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times,” section 101. Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet. Aereo’s server tunes an antenna, which is dedicated to the use of one subscriber, to the broadcast carrying the selected show. A transcoder translates the signals received by an antenna into data that can be transmitted over the Internet. A server saves the data in a subscriber-specific folder and streams the show to the subscriber, a few seconds behind the over-the-air broadcast. The owners of program copyrights unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that Aereo was infringing their right to “perform” their copyrighted works “publicly.” The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that Aereo performs the works within the meaning of section 101 and does not merely supply equipment that allows others to do so. The Court noted that the Act was amended in 1976 to make the law applicable to community antenna television (CATV) providers by clarifying that an entity that acts like a CATV system “performs,” even when it only enhances viewers’ ability to receive broadcast television signals. Aereo’s activities are similar; it sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast. That Aereo’s system remains inert until a subscriber indicates that she wants to watch a program is not critical. Aereo transmits a performance whenever its subscribers watch a program. The Court stated that when an entity communicates the same contemporaneously perceptible images and sounds to multiple people, it “transmit[s] ... a performance” to them, regardless of the number of discrete communications it makes and whether it makes an individual personal copy for each viewer. Aero subscribers are “the public” under the Act: a large number of people, unrelated and unknown to each other. View "Am. Broad. Cos. v. Aereo, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Luvdarts sued mobile wireless carriers, who own multimedia messaging networks (MMS networks), for copyright infringement. At issue was whether the carriers could be held liable for copyright infringement that allegedly occurred on their networks. Because Luvdarts failed to allege adequately that the carriers had the necessary right and ability to supervise the infringing conduct, the district court properly determined that they could not prevail on their claim of vicarious copyright infringement. Because Luvdarts failed to allege adequately that the carriers had the necessary specific knowledge of infringement, it could not prevail on its claim of contributory copyright infringement. Accordingly, Luvdarts failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted and the district court properly dismissed its complaint with prejudice. View "Luvdarts LLC, et al v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, et al" on Justia Law

by
Wiley, an academic publisher, often assigns to its foreign subsidiary (WileyAsia) rights to publish, print, and sell Wiley’s English language textbooks abroad. WileyAsia’s books state that they are not to be taken (without permission) into the U.S. When Kirtsaeng moved to the U.S., he asked friends to buy foreign edition English-language textbooks in Thai book shops, where they sold at low prices, and mail them to him. He sold the books at a profit. Wiley claimed that Kirtsaeng’s unauthorized importation and resale was an infringement of Wiley’s 17 U.S.C. 106(3) exclusive rights to distribute its copyrighted work and section 602’s import prohibition. Kirtsaeng cited section 109(a)’s “first sale” doctrine, which provides that “the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title ... is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” The district court held that the defense did not apply to goods manufactured abroad. The jury found that Kirtsaeng had willfully infringed Wiley’s American copyrights and assessed damages. The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that section 109(a)’s “lawfully made under this title” language indicated that the “first sale” doctrine does not apply to copies of American copyrighted works manufactured abroad. The Supreme Court reversed; the “first sale” doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. Section 109(a) says nothing about geography. A geographical interpretation of the first-sale doctrine could re¬quire libraries to obtain permission before circulating the many books in their collections that were printed overseas; potential practical problems are too serious, extensive, and likely to come about to be dismissed as insignificant—particularly in light of the ever-growing importance of foreign trade to America. View "Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law