Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Copyright

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Plaintiff sued Amazon, claiming that it permitted third parties to advertise counterfeit copies of books, Vagabond Natural and Vagabond Spiritual, that the plaintiff wrote and self‐published, detailing his experiences as a vagabond homeless man. He says Amazon refused repeated requests to remove the advertisements, although Amazon did eventually remove them. He insists that legitimate sales would have generated “millions of dollars for Amazon” and allowed him “to end homelessness,” but that Amazon “forcefully exploited” his books by counterfeiting them. He claims to have examined copies of each book purchased through Amazon by his cousin and determined that all were unauthorized reproductions because genuine copies would bear his fingernail indentations on the covers. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the books at issue are hard copies, rather than online copies, and are almost certainly Hart’s self‐published books because they are identical to those books. Only six copies were sold by Amazon. There is no plausible allegation that, even if the books sold by Amazon are counterfeits, Amazon was aware of the fact. Counterfeiting cannot be presumed; Hart’s claims did not meet even a minimum standard of plausibility. View "Hart v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1984, Jesus Muhammad‐Ali painted a portrait of the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Ali later testified that his agreement with Farrakhan included only the portrait, not lithographs, and that Farrakhan never asked him to produce lithographs. In 2013, Ali sued Final Call, a newspaper that describes itself as the “propagation arm of the Nation of Islam,” for copyright infringement. Final Call admittedly had sold 115 copies of a lithograph of Ali’s Farrakhan portrait, but claimed it had authority to do so. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment in favor of Final Call. The law places the burden of proof on the party asserting license or authorization. Ali proved all he was required to prove, a prima facie case of infringement. A plaintiff is not required to prove that the defendant’s copying was unauthorized in order to state a prima facie case of copyright infringement. View "Ali v. Final Call, Inc." on Justia Law

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Bell sued several defendants for copyright infringement, alleging that they impermissibly displayed a photo of the Indianapolis skyline that belongs to Bell on websites promoting their respective businesses. With respect to one defendant, Bell misidentified the photograph. As for the other defendants, the court concluded that although Bell had established ownership of the photo, he had failed to prove damages: Bell had not demonstrated the photo’s fair market value, nor had he shown that defendants profited from their use of his photo. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on both damages and injunctive and declaratory relief. Bell filed a second copyright infringement lawsuit against some of the defendants in the same court. The district court dismissed the second case based on res judicata. The Seventh Circuit affirmed both decisions, noting that the photographs were removed from the websites long ago and that the websites no longer exist. The second lawsuit involved a common core of operative facts. View "Bell v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Bell, a practicing attorney and professional photographer, filed a copyright infringement action against 46 defendants including Lantz, based on their website publication of Bell’s photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. Eventually, Bell confirmed that Lantz had not infringed his copyright, and voluntarily dismissed his claim with prejudice. Lantz moved, as the prevailing party, for costs and attorney’s fees under 17 U.S.C. 505, the Copyright Act. The district court considered the nonexclusive factors outlined in Supreme Court precedent and concluded that the action was frivolous, that Bell’s motivation was questionable, that the action was objectively unreasonable, and that awarding fees would advance the considerations of compensation and deterrence. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded for recalculation of the award, finding no support for the attorney’s hourly rate. View "Bell v. Lantz" on Justia Law

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Consumer Health Information sued Amylin Pharmaceuticals,alleging copyright infringement. 17 U.S.C. 101, concerning patient-education materials Consumer Health developed for Amylin’s use in marketing its diabetes drug Byetta. The parties’ contract, executed in 2006, unambiguously assigns the copyright to Amylin. Consumer Health alleged that the contract was induced by fraud or economic distress and sought rescission. The district court dismissed the suit as untimely. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Consumer Health assigned the copyright to Amylin in 2006 but did not file this suit until 2013, several years too late under either a four-year limitations period that applies to claims for contract rescission under California law, or under the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. 507(b). Consumer Health’s cause of action accrued when the contract was executed; at that point Consumer Health knew that Amylin owned the copyright, and the limitations clock on a suit to reclaim ownership started ticking. View "Consumer Health Info. Co v. Amylin Pharma., Inc." on Justia Law

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Rahn, a white male who earned a PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois, was hired as a visiting professor at NIU. His wife, Regina, was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering for that same school year. During that year, a tenure-track assistant professor position opened up in the Department. Rahn applied. Despite her husband’s status as an applicant, Regina was a voting member of the search committee. She claims that one committee member stated that he would not hire a white man into the department if qualified minority candidates were available. After another applicant was hired, the Rahns alleged reverse discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 701 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and copyright infringement, based on use of teaching notes and slides. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. That testimony did not support indicate that an evaluation metric was a subterfuge for eliminating Rahn on racial grounds. A university employer may properly preference academic experience; Rahn did not present evidence that such a preference was inconsistent with the initial description of the position and the preferred qualifications. View "Rahn v. Bd. of Trs. of N. Ill. Univ." on Justia Law

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Bell, a lawyer and photographer, alleged that three small Indianapolis business owners violated federal copyright laws and an Indiana theft statute by publishing on the internet a photo that he took of the Indianapolis skyline without his authorization. In August 2013, the district court set a deadline for filing motions for leave to amend the pleadings. Bell sought to amend his complaint (for a fourth time) eight months after the cut-off after learning that defendant Taylor had not actually used the photo at issue but had displayed a different photo belonging to Bell. The district court denied Bell’s motion, citing undue delay and his own carelessness. The district court granted defendants summary judgment on the damages issue, finding that Bell cannot demonstrate how they caused him financial harm and was not entitled to monetary recovery. The Seventh Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Although the court purported to issue a “final judgment” after ruling on the summary judgment motion, it did so in error; the issue of injunctive relief was never adjudicated. Because Bell’s copyright claim was not entirely disposed of by the ruling, the judgment was not final. View "Bell v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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CBD designs and builds restaurants. Its client, Mongolian House, wanted to renovate an upscale Chicago restaurant called “Plan B.” CBD designed the interior and in 2006 filed blueprints to obtain a “repair and replace” building permit. CBD completed the construction work in 2007. In 2008 a CBD employee visited the city’s offices on other business and chanced upon blueprints for Plan B that were labeled with another architect’s name. The city refused to provide a copy, saying the blueprints were exempt from disclosure. Mongolian House defaulted on payments to CBD. In 2009 the city issued a new building permit for Plan B based on the 2008 blueprints. In 2012 CBD sued, alleging copyright infringement and state-law claims. The district court dismissed the claims under the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations, 17 U.S.C. 507(b), reasoning that CBD was on “inquiry notice” of a possible copyright violation when its employee happened upon the 2008 blueprints. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court recently clarified that the Act’s limitations period establishes a “separate accrual rule” so that “each infringing act starts a new limitations period.” CBD’s complaint alleges potentially infringing acts within the three-year look-back period from the date of suit.View "Chicago Bldg. Design, P.C. v. Mongolian House Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887 and his last in 1927. Because of statutory extensions of copyright protection culminating in the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, American copyrights on the final stories will not expire until 2018-2022. The copyrights on the other 46 stories and four novels have expired, making them part of the public domain. Klinger is co-editor of an anthology: A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon (2011). Klinger’s publisher, paid the estate $5000 for a license. Klinger decided to create a sequel: In the Company of Sherlock Holmes. The estate learned of the project and threatened to prevent distribution of the book. Klinger obtained a declaratory judgment that he is free to use material in the 50 Sherlock Holmes stories and novels that are no longer under copyright, but may use nothing in the 10 stories still under copyright that has sufficient originality to be copyrightable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first rejecting an argument that the court had no subject-matter jurisdiction because there was no actual case or controversy, then rejecting an argument that copyright on a “complex” character, such as Holmes or Watson, whose full complexity is not revealed until a later story, remains under copyright until the later story falls into the public domain. The Constitution, Art. I, section 8, authorizes copyright protection only for “limited Times.” The estate sought “near-perpetual copyright” in seeking 135 years of protection for the character of Sherlock Holmes. View "Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd." on Justia Law