Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Intellectual Property
T-Peg, Inc. v. VT Timber Works, Inc.
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.
Mercado-Salinasl v. Bart Enter. Int’l, Ltd.
In 1995, plaintiff, a popular psychic and astrologer, and defendant entered into a contract for production and distribution of materials featuring plaintiff's psychic and astrological services. Plaintiff granted defendant the right to use his trademark, name, and likeness. After a 2006 dispute led to litigation; a jury rejected plaintiff's claim that he had validly terminated the agreement, found that he had violated the agreement, and found that defendant owed him no compensation. In 2009, both parties sought injunctive relief to prevent the other party from using the trademark. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of defendant, finding that plaintiff had assigned the trademark in perpetuity. The First Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a preliminary injunction, based on its interpretation of the agreement and application of collateral estoppel, based on the prior litigation.
Airframe Sys., Inc. v. L-3 Commc’n Corp.
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.
Curet-Velazquez v. ACEMLA De Puerto Rico, Inc.
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.
Spooner v. EEN, INC.
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.
TMTV Corp. v. Mass Prod., Inc.
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.
Voice of the Arab World, Inc. v. MDTV Medical News Now, Inc.
The parties agree that defendant has used the mark continuously since 1998, Plaintiff claims, and defendant disputes, use since 1989. The defendant applied for registration of the mark in 1998 and the USPTO issued registration in 2002. The plaintiff applied for registration in 2000. The USPTO initially denied, but in 2008 granted, registration. The defendant sent a cease-and-desist letter in 2000, but plaintiff continued to use the mark. The parties negotiated and, in 2005, entered an agreement under which defendant would advertise on plaintiff's website. The relationship broke down and, in 2008 defendant petitioned the USPTO to cancel plaintiff's registration; the petition is still pending. Plaintiff sought declaratory judgment and defendant counterclaimed. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of defendant. The First Circuit vacated and remanded. The district court erred in presuming irreparable harm upon finding a likelihood of success on the merits, in a case where there has been an excessive delay in seeking relief.
Latin Am. Music Co. v. Am. Soc’y of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
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.