Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Copyright

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The Eastern Orthodox monastic order began a spiritual affiliation with the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)in 1965. Although the Monastery concedes it commemorated the bishops of ROCOR until 1986, it considers itself an independent entity. The Monastery's 35 monks worked on translating religious texts from their original Greek into English. The works were in demand amongst parishes, but the Monastery obliged requests on a limited basis. One of the monks went to Colorado where he formed Dormition Skete, dedicated to painting traditional Orthodox icons. A Skete member, the Archbishop, created a website devoted to the Orthodox faith. Based on postings on that site, the Monastery sued the Archbishop, in state court, for copyright infringement. The parties settled with the Archbishop acknowledging the Monastery’s ownership of the works. The website continued to include its translations; the Monastery filed a federal suit, 17 U.S.C. 101. The district ruled in favor of the Monastery, rejecting claims or public domain, that ROCOR was the true owner of the copyrights, and of fair use. The First Circuit affirmed. The Archbishop offered identical or near-identical versions of the works on his website for the precise purpose for which the Monastery originally created them, harming their potential market value. View "Soc'y of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Inc. v. Archbishop Gregory of Denver" on Justia Law

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In 2001 BPPR sought a declaratory judgment under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 after several music publishing companies contacted BPPR claiming that they owned and were owed royalties on music compositions that BPPR had produced and distributed in a series of Christmas concerts. BPPR deposited royalties due on the compositions with the district court and asked the court to declare to whom the royalties were due and distribute them accordingly. LAMCO and others countersued for copyright infringement. The district court denied motions for summary judgment. Several co-defendants settled their claims among themselves and with BPPR. The jury found BPPR liable for infringement of two compositions owned by LAMCO and ACEMLA, and awarded $42,941.00 in compensatory damages. The court found ACEMLA liable for violating a GVLI copyright and ordered $43,405.35 in damages. The First Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. The district court properly found that the settlement agreement did not preclude future litigation of 12 undisputed LAMCO songs. View "Banco Popular de Puerto Rico v. Asociacion de Compositores" on Justia Law

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The owner consulted with two architectural firms, T-Peg and VTW. T-Peg drew up a preliminary design then worked with the owner to refine the design. In 2001, T-Peg registered its design with the Copyright Office. Meanwhile, in 2000, the owner showed T-Peg's unregistered preliminary design to VTW, which began working on its own design. VTW completed its plan in 2002 with significant, minutely detailed input from the owner. Completed construction apparently reflected T-Peg's registered design. In a suit for copyright infringement, the court granted summary judgment for VTW and the owner, concluding that no reasonable jury could find that T-Peg's and VTW's designs were substantially similar. The First Circuit reversed and, following trial, the jury found in VTW's favor and rejected T-Peg's infringement claims. VTW sought fees of more than $200,000 under 17 U.S.C. 505. The district court granted VTW a fee award of $35,000. The First Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court adequately elaborated its reasoning.

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Recording companies sought statutory damages and injunctive relief under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101, claiming willful infringement of copyrights of music recordings by using file-sharing software to download and distribute recordings without authorization. The jury found that the infringement was willful and awarded statutory damages of $22,500 for each infringed recording, an award within the statutory range of $750 to $150,000 per infringement. The judge reduced the damages by a factor of ten, reasoning that the award was excessive in violation of defendant's due process rights. The First Circuit affirmed the finding of liability, but reinstated the original damage award. The district court erred in considering the constitutional issue without first addressing defendant's motion for remittitur. The court noted a number of issues concerning application of the Copyright Act that "Congress may wish to examine."

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In 1979, plaintiff began developing proprietary aircraft maintenance tracking software; it has continually modified the source code for the software. Source code is the original version of a computer program that is written in human-readable words and symbols and must be compiled into machine-readable object code before a computer can read and execute the software. A program in source code format can be modified by a programmer, whereas a program in object code format cannot be easily modified. Plaintiff began licensing the software to defendant in 1986, limited to use in object code format, and registered four versions of the source code with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2003. After discovering unlicensed versions on defendant's computers, plaintiff brought an infringement action. The district court entered summary judgment for defendant. The First Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff, by comparing what was found on defendant's computers to the 2009 version of its source code, did not produce sufficient evidence of "substantial similarity" between the copyrighted material and the allegedly infringing material.

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The heirs of a composer, who died in 2003, sued a music publisher and a performance rights society, with which the composer had contracted in 1995 with respect to four songs. The defendants failed to supply royalty reports as required by the contracts. The district court award the maximum statutory damages for the copyright infringements pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 504(c)(1). The First Circuit affirmed, rejecting many of the defendants' arguments as not properly raised and, therefore, waived.

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In a suit under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 106, described by the court as the equivalent of hand-to-hand combat, the plaintiff settled with some defendants for $30,000. After trial plaintiff obtained injunctive relief and statutory damages in the amount of $40,000 against others, offset by the $30,000 settlement. The court awarded $98,745 in attorney fees; a motion for costs, initially denied, remained pending. The First Circuit affirmed, first noting that the district court had cured a jurisdictional defect by awarding $3,413.05 in costs. The district court correctly applied the lodestar method. Although the fees exceed the award, the violation was willful and the injunctive relief may be worth more that the award of damages. While a rejected Rule 68 offer, not improved upon at trial, obligates the plaintiff to pay the defense costs incurred subsequent to the rejection the offer plaintiff made before trial was not a Rule 68 offer.

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The star of a television show left his position with the plaintiff television station for a different television station, where he worked on a television show with the same characters and setting as a show he had worked on for plaintiff. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of plaintiff in a copyright infringement action against the actor. The plaintiff settled with the second television station. The First Circuit affirmed. Even if the actor suggested some of the scripts and characters in the original show, they were not "fixed" as required for protection under 17 U.S.C. 102(a); the scripts, as work-for-hire, belonged to the plaintiff. The shows are strikingly similar. The $700,000 settlement with the television station did not release the actor, but the district court correctly offset damages by the amount of the settlement.

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After successfully defending an appeal from a verdict that it had not infringed a song copyright, ASCAP obtained an award of about $62,000 in attorney fees. The First Circuit affirmed. The song copyright was timely registered and, in any case, failure to timely register would not bar an award of fees to a party successfully defending an infringement claim. ASCAP was a prevailing party under 17 U.S.C. 505 and the award was reasonable.