Author Archives: Evan Brown (@internetcases)

Bittorrent copyright plaintiff got much gentler treatment in New York federal court

Less than a week after a federal judge in Washington D.C. lambasted serial copyright plaintiff Strike 3 Holdings, calling it a “troll” and characterizing its tactics as “smacking of extortion,” another federal judge – this time in New York – gave Strike 3 much gentler treatment, finding that “there is no evidence to support Defendant’s conclusory claims that Plaintiff is engaging in copyright troll litigation tactics in the instant lawsuit”.

In the case of Strike 3 Holdings, LLC v. Doe, — F.Supp.3d —, 2018 WL 6166873 (W.D.N.Y, Nov. 26, 2018), the court denied the John Doe defendant’s motion to quash a subpoena sent to Doe’s ISP seeking to discover his identity so that plaintiff could serve him with the complaint.

The court did, however, include a nod to Doe’s privacy interests in ordering that he be permitted to proceed anonymously in the lawsuit. It modified the protective order to provide that the defendant not be referred to using his initials, but instead as “John Doe subscriber assigned IP address 69.204.6.161” in any public filings.

Strike 3 Holdings, LLC v. Doe, — F.Supp.3d —, 2018 WL 6166873 (W.D.N.Y, Nov. 26, 2018)

Evan Brown is a Chicago attorney helping clients in matters dealing with copyright, technology, the internet and new media. Call him at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases dot com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases

Summary judgment awarded to luxury brand against cybersquatter under ACPA

Plaintiff (the luxury brand Chanel) sued defendant under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (15 U.S.C. 1125(d)) (“ACPA”) over defendant’s registration and use of the disputed domain name <chanelgraffiti.com>. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on its ACPA claim. The court granted the motion.

Distinctiveness of plaintiff’s mark

Defendant did not contest that plaintiff’s CHANEL mark was distinctive at the time the disputed domain name was registered. Plaintiff had put forth evidence that it owned registered trademarks for the mark CHANEL, and the court noted that registered trademarks are presumed to be distinctive.

Confusing similarity

The court found that the disputed domain name was confusingly similar to plaintiff’s mark. Citing 5 McCarthy on Trademarks § 25:78 (4th ed. 2002), the court held that “[i]n the cybersquatting context, ‘confusingly similar’ must simply mean that the plaintiff’s mark and the defendant’s domain name are so similar in sight, sound, or meaning that they could be confused.” The court found that defendant offered no admissible evidence to suggest that chanelgraffiti.com was not confusingly similar to the mark CHANEL.

Even with the additional word “graffiti” appearing within the disputed domain name, the court found that the similarities between the CHANEL mark and the disputed domain name were “instantly apparent because of the inclusion of the word” CHANEL in the disputed domain name. Moreover, defendant did not claim that the term “chanel” was meant to reference anything other than the luxury brand. Similarly, the court found that the including of the term “graffiti” did not self-evidently connote a type of criticism or disregard for the brand that rises to a meaningful level of distinction.

Bad faith intent

The court also found that there was no reasonable dispute that defendant had a bad faith intent to profit from the CHANEL mark. It found that bad faith could be inferred from defendant’s intent to divert consumers from plaintiff’s online location to a site accessible under the disputed domain name that could harm the goodwill represented by plaintiff’s mark, either for commercial gain or with the intent to tarnish or disparage plaintiff’s mark, by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the site.

The court found that the disputed domain name unquestionably advertised products containing plaintiff’s mark and had product descriptions that read “CHANEL inspired graffiti bags.” Defendant disputed that he had any control over the content of the site, stating that he did not operate the website and had no connection to the disputed domain name outside of registering it.

Whether and to what extent the site was used or operated by defendant, however, was beside the point under ACPA. Defendant did not dispute that his registration of the disputed domain name, regardless of the content of the site, would divert customers from plaintiff’s website by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the affiliation of defendant’s site, which was a “quintessential example of bad faith within the meaning of ACPA.”

Chanel, Inc. v. Richardson, 2018 WL 6097865 (S.D.N.Y. November 20, 2018)

Video game elements did not infringe copyright

Plaintiff sued defendant claiming that certain visual elements of defendant’s digital video slot machine game infringed the copyright in elements of plaintiff’s game. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the copyright infringement claims. The court granted the motion.

It held that no reasonable factfinder could find the images in defendant’s games to be substantially similar to the protectible expression in plaintiff’s copyrighted material.

It found that the games were similar only at the conceptual level. Both games had 3 rows and 5 columns of spinning squares, and both included among the spinning squares images that corresponded to high-value playing cards (A, K, Q, J, and 10). But those were common elements in slot machine games. The court found they would likely qualify as scènes à faire and, one way or the other, were not protectible elements.

And both games used images of cats. That, however, according to the court, was where the similarities ended. In the court’s view, the cats in defendant’s game looked nothing like those in plaintiff’s images. Plaintiff’s cats were shown as full bodies, in active or playful poses. Some were partly outside the square frame. They moved when they were part of a winning combination. Perhaps most importantly, the court found, they were somewhat cartoon-like, and they had outsized eyes.

Defendant’s cats, by contrast, were shown in headshots only on the main game screens (with the exception of some bonus images), and they were fully contained within the square frame. The cats were dour and serious and were not engaged in any apparent activity, and they were more realistic images of cats. And there were other equally significant differences between the two sets of images.

GC2 Inc. v. International Game Technology, 2018 WL 5921315 (N.D.Ill. November 12, 2018)

UDRP Panel found no bad faith, but gave the Complainant additional opportunity to prove its case

[This post originally appeared on UDRP Tracker.]

The Complainant established its business beginning in March 2018 and sought to acquire the disputed domain name <zoyo.com> through communications with the Respondent facilitated by the registrar. After the Respondent demanded $10,000 for the disputed domain name – which was the same amount the Respondent claimed to have paid for the disputed domain name “a few years ago” – the Complainant sought relief from a single-member WIPO Panel under the UDRP.

The Panel denied the Complaint, finding that the Complainant failed to show bad faith use and registration under the UDRP.

The evidence on this point was controverted. The Respondent claimed (not in a formal response but through the above-noted negotiations) that he acquired the disputed domain name years ago, and the WhoIs data showed it was first registered in 2002. But the Complainant – looking to the “last updated” field in the WhoIs data, claimed that the Respondent acquired it in April 2018.

The Panel found that “failed to establish that the Respondent’s statement in response to the Complainant’s enquiry that it acquired the disputed domain name ‘some years ago’ [was] false.”

It further noted that the Complainant stated that it required the disputed domain name for use as part of the expansion and development of its business. The Panel surmised that this could indicate that the Complaint was filed as a part of the Complainant’s business expansion plan and perhaps indicated that the Complainant did not fully understand the nature and purpose of the UDRP.

So the Panel’s decision left open the possibility of further action if the facts would support them. The Panel determined that if the Complainant could prove that the Respondent did not acquire the disputed domain name until April 2018, at a time when there was considerable activity and perhaps publicity in relation to the establishment of the Complainant’s group, that might paint a different picture. Accordingly, on the basis of the evidence before the Panel on the present record, the Panel denied the Complaint but without prejudice to the filing of a new Complaint should evidence become available to support the Complainant’s contentions concerning the Respondent’s identity and acquisition of the disputed domain name.

Zoyo Capital Limited v. A. Zoyo, WIPO Case No. D2018-2234

Anonymous online trademark infringer can be identified through subpoena to domain registrar

Plaintiff trademark owner noticed that an unknown party was using plaintiff’s mark to sell email templates online without plaintiff’s authorization. After the unknown infringer’s domain name registrar (the case does not say whether it was also the web host) refused to take down the allegedly infringing content, plaintiff filed suit against the “John Doe” defendant. Since it needed to learn the identity of the defendant to move the case forward, plaintiff asked the court for early discovery that would permit plaintiff to send a subpoena to the registrar that would compel the registrar to identify its customer.

The court granted the motion for leave to take early discovery. It applied the standard set out in OpenMind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-39, 2011 WL 4715200 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2011) (citing Columbia Ins. Co. v. seescandy.com, 185 F.R.D. 578-80 (N.D. Cal. 1999)), which requires that prior to early discovery being permitted, a plaintiff must show:

  • Plaintiff can identify the missing party with sufficient specificity such that the court can determine that defendant is a real person or entity who could be sued in federal court;
  • Plaintiff has identified all previous steps taken to locate the elusive defendant;
  • Plaintiff’s suit against defendant could withstand a motion to dismiss; and
  • Plaintiff has demonstrated that there is a reasonable likelihood of being able to identify defendant through discovery such that service of process would be possible.

On the first factor, plaintiff had alleged that the Doe defendant owned or was using the specified domain name associated with the offending website to sell email templates using plaintiff’s trademark.

As for the second factor, plaintiff had contacted the domain name registrar, and asked that the information be taken down, but the registrar refused to do so. The domain name alone was not sufficient for plaintiff to identify the Doe defendant, and plaintiff had no other means to identify the Doe defendant besides the registrar’s record which it refused to provide without a subpoena.

Regarding the third factor, plaintiff made the required showing by alleging that it holds a valid trademark for its mark that the Doe defendant used to sell products on the offending website.

And concerning the fourth factor, the plaintiff had alleged that the registrar was the registrar for the domain name associated with the offending website and that it had stated it would pass the complaint information on to the website owner. The court found that plaintiff had thus demonstrated that a subpoena to the registrar should reveal the identity of the Doe defendant.

One should note this court’s willingness to permit early discovery as being in contrast to another court’s recent apparent disdain for a copyright troll plaintiff seeking the identity of an anonymous online infringer.

Marketo, Inc. v. Doe, 2018 WL 6046464 (N.D.Cal. Nov. 19, 2018)

Facebook and iOS game developer’s browsewrap terms of service were not enforceable

Plaintiffs sued defendant game developer in court alleging defendant’s game (Available on Facebook and via an iOS app) constituted illegal gambling in violation of Washington state law, and that they should get back the money they spent on virtual chips bought in-game.

Defendant moved to compel arbitration. The court denied the motion. It held that the game did not present its terms of service in a manner that would place users on notice of the provisions. Since the plaintiffs never effectively agreed to resolve their claims through arbitration, it was proper to allow the case to stay in court.

The court noted a number of problems with the game’s “browsewrap” agreement.

When a user would first access the Facebook app, the “App Terms” link on the initial pop-up window was located far below the “Continue” button in small grey text. The court found that the pop-up window’s main purpose was to gain permission for data sharing between Facebook and defendant, and was not a point traditionally associated with binding terms unrelated to the data sharing itself.

When a user would first download the iPhone app, the app page contained a link to the “License Agreement” that could only be viewed after significant scrolling. Compounding the problem was the fact that a user could download the app directly from the search results list within the App Store without ever accessing the particular app page. So neither the initial link on Facebook or on the mobile app was coupled with a notification informing a user that downloading or playing defendant’s game created a binding agreement.

The hyperlinks within the game itself also did not put a user on inquiry notice.

On Facebook, the “Terms of Use” hyperlink was located at the very bottom of the gameplay screen in small font next to several other links, and was not visible unless a user would scroll down.

On the mobile app, the link to the Terms of Use was located within a settings menu that a player might never have even needed to access. Furthermore, links that were available only via the settings menu were not “temporally coupled” with a discrete act of manifesting assent, such as downloading an app or making a purchase, and were thus less likely to put a reasonable user on inquiry notice.

Benson v. Double Down Interactive, LLC, 2018 WL 5921062 (W.D.Wa. Nov. 13, 2018)

See also:

Court labels copyright plaintiff as a troll and shuts down efforts to ID anonymous infringer

When a copyright plaintiff does not know who a particular alleged infringer is, it must first send a subpoena to the ISP assigned the IP address used to commit the alleged infringement. But the rules of procedure do not allow the sending of subpoenas until after the 26(f) conference – a meeting between the plaintiff and defendant (or their lawyers) to discuss the case. A plaintiff cannot have a 26(f) conference if the defendant has not been served with the complaint, and the complaint cannot be served unless the defendant’s identity is known.

So you can see the conundrum. To break out of this not-knowing, plaintiffs in situations like this will ask the court’s help through a motion for leave to take early discovery. That way the plaintiff can learn who the defendant is, serve the complaint, and move the case forward.

In the recent case of Strike 3 Holdings v. Doe, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia put a stop to the efforts of a plaintiff that it called a copyright troll right to its face (or at least right in the text of the opinion). The court denied Strike 3’s motion for leave to take early discovery to learn the identity of an unknown BitTorrent user accused of downloading pornography.

The court held that the plaintiff’s request was not specific enough, and the privacy interests of the unknown defendant, together with the social harm of being wrongfully accused of obtaining “particularly prurient pornography” were not outweighed by the trollish plaintiff’s need for the information.

Key to the court’s ruling was the idea that a subpoena in circumstances like this must be able to actually identify a defendant who could be sued. The court noted, however, that

Strike 3 could not withstand a 12(b)(6) motion in this case without resorting to far more intensive discovery machinations sufficiently establishing defendant did the infringing—examining physical evidence (at least the computers, smartphones, and tablets of anyone in the owner’s house, as well as any neighbor or houseguest who shared the Internet), and perhaps even interrogatories, document requests, or depositions. Strike 3’s requested subpoena thus will not—and may never—identify a defendant who could be sued.

The opinion is an entertaining read and conveys the judge’s clear frustration with copyright troll plaintiffs. Below are some of the more memorable quips.

Regarding the flaws of using IP addresses to identify people:

[Plaintiff’s] method [of identifying infringers] is famously flawed: virtual private networks and onion routing spoof IP addresses (for good and ill); routers and other devices are unsecured; malware cracks passwords and opens backdoors; multiple people (family, roommates, guests, neighbors, etc.) share the same IP address; a geolocation service might randomly assign addresses to some general location if it cannot more specifically identify another.

Regarding the public shame of being accused of infringing porn:

… But in many cases, the method is enough to force the Internet service provider (ISP) to unmask the IP address’s subscriber. And once the ISP outs the subscriber, permitting them to be served as the defendant, any future Google search of their name will turn-up associations with the websites Vixen, Blacked, Tushy, and Blacked Raw. The first two are awkward enough, but the latter two cater to even more singular tastes.

How trolls are quick to flee:

Indeed, the copyright troll’s success rate comes not from the Copyright Act, but from the law of large numbers. … These serial litigants drop cases at the first sign of resistance, preying on low-hanging fruit and staying one step ahead of any coordinated defense. They don’t seem to care about whether defendant actually did the infringing, or about developing the law. If a Billy Goat Gruff moves to confront a copyright troll in court, the troll cuts and runs back under its bridge. Perhaps the trolls fear a court disrupting their rinse-wash-and-repeat approach: file a deluge of complaints; ask the court to compel disclosure of the account holders; settle as many claims as possible; abandon the rest.

It’s pretty much extortion:

Armed with hundreds of cut-and-pasted complaints and boilerplate discovery motions, Strike 3 floods this courthouse (and others around the country) with lawsuits smacking of extortion. It treats this Court not as a citadel of justice, but as an ATM. Its feigned desire for legal process masks what it really seeks: for the Court to oversee a high-tech shakedown. This Court declines.

The court’s decision to deny discovery is anything but the rubber stamp approach so many judges in these kinds of cases over the past several years have been accused of employing.

Strike 3 Holdings v. Doe, 2018 WL 6027046 (D.D.C. November 16, 2018)

Web scraping case fails under Dastar

Plaintiff sued defendant claiming that defendant wrongfully scraped sales listings from plaintiff’s website and copied those listings on defendant’s own website. It brought the following claims:

  • Violation of the Copyright Act’s prohibitions against distributing false copyright management information (“CMI”) (17 U.S.C. §1202(a)), and removing or altering CMI (Id., §1202(b)); and
  • Violation of the Lanham Act for reverse passing off and false endorsement.

Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court granted the motion.

CMI claim

The court dismissed the claim asserting distribution of false CMI because plaintiff alleged that the false CMI was a blanket copyright notice found on defendant’s website’s terms of use, and not on the pages where the copied content was displayed.

It also dismissed plaintiff’s claim for removal of CMI because it found that the allegations concerning the CMI allegedly removed – a copyright notice found at the bottom of the pages of plaintiff’s website – covered the pages of the website itself, not the particular listings that were allegedly copied without the CMI. It held that:

To violate the DMCA, the false CMI must be “conveyed in connection” with the work. General copyright notices are not “conveyed” with the work, and thus do not violate the DMCA. [See GC2 Inc. v. Int’l Game Tech. PLC, 255 F. Supp. 3d 812, 821 (N.D. Ill. 2017)] (“Courts, however, have generally required more than a boilerplate terms of use notice near a copyrighted work in order to find a party liable for distributing false CMI”); Pers. Keepsakes, Inc. v. Personalizationmall.com, Inc., 2012 WL 414803, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 8, 2012) (“[A]s a matter of law, if a general copyright notice appears on an entirely different webpage than the work at issue, then that CMI is not ‘conveyed’ with the work and no claim will lie under the DMCA.”)

Lanham Act claim

On the Lanham Act claim, the court found that plaintiff failed to allege that it had a protectible mark that was being used in a manner that was likely to cause confusion among consumers.

The court also applied the 2003 Supreme Court case of Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003) to find that plaintiff’s Lanham Act claim failed. In Dastar, the Supreme Court concluded that “false designation of origin” as it is used in the Lanham Act attaches to the producer of tangible goods that are offered for sale, and not to the author of any idea, concept, or communication embodied in those goods. In this case, the defendant created the final product (website listings), albeit using the plaintiff’s content (just like in Dastar). Because plaintiff was not the source of the product (the duplicated listings), it did not have a claim under the Lanham Act.

Alan Ross Machinery Corp. v. Machinio Corporation, 2018 WL 6018603 (N.D.Ill. November 16, 2018)

Suit under DMCA for concealing copyright management information failed because plaintiff did not properly allege defendants’ intent

Plaintiff sued defendants under the provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) (17 U.S.C. § 1202(a)) that, among other things, prohibits a person from knowingly and with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement, provide copyright management information that is false.

Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, and plaintiff sought review with the Second Circuit. On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal.

It noted that in order to plead a violation of Section 1202(a), a plaintiff must plausibly allege that a defendant knowingly provided false copyright information and that the defendant did so with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement. This is a double scienter requirement.

In this case, the court found that plaintiff’s DMCA claim merely alleged that one of the defendants was identified on a disputed work (a book) as its author, and that she was listed in the notice of copyright as its owner, which plaintiff alleges is false.

The court held that these facts did not amount to a plausible allegation that defendants knew that such copyright information was false, or that it even was false. Moreover, plaintiff had failed to adequately plead that defendants intended to conceal valid copyright management information.

Krechmer v. Tantaros, 2018 WL 4044048 (2nd Cir. August 24, 2018)

Is an online marketplace liable for injuries caused by defective products?

The recent case of Eberhart v. Amazon.com, Inc. discussed the question of whether a man could recover from Amazon for severe injuries to his thumb he suffered when the glass of a coffee maker he purchased on Amazon shattered. The court held that Amazon was not liable.

No strict liability

In most states, when a product injures someone, that injured party can seek to hold anyone within the distribution chain “strictly liable” for the injuries. That means that the party is potentially liable regardless of whether it sold the product directly to the consumer, and regardless of whether the injury was foreseeable or was caused because of a lack of due care.

The court concluded that Amazon was not within the coffeemaker’s chain of distribution such that Amazon could be considered a “distributor” subject to strict liability. Amazon never took title to the coffee maker. Moreover, Amazon was better characterized as a provider of services. And finally, many other courts that had considered the question had concluded that Amazon was not strictly liable for defective products sold on its marketplace.

No negligence, breach of warranty or misrepresentation

Plaintiff’s other legal theories against Amazon failed as well. As for his negligence claims, the court held Amazon owed no duty to plaintiff because Amazon did not manufacture, sell, or otherwise distribute the allegedly defective coffeemaker to him. And as for claims sounding in breach of express warranty and misrepresentation, the court held that because Amazon did not make any statement about the coffeemaker (the seller generated that content), it could not be held liable.

Eberhart v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2018 WL 4080348 (S.D.N.Y., August 27, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.