Category Archives: Copyright

Ninth Circuit: Apple did not engage in copyright misuse by restricting OS X to Apple hardware

Apple Inc. v. Psystar Corp., — F.3d —, 2011 WL 4470623 (9th Cir. September 28, 2011) [PDF]

Back in 2008, Apple sued Psystar for copyright infringement arising from Psystar’s manufacture and distribution of computers preloaded with copies of Mac OS X. Psystar lost at the trial court level, with the judge rejecting its argument that Apple engaged in anti-competitive, “copyright misuse” by requiring in its OS X software license agreement that the operating system be used only on Apple hardware. Psystar sought review of this ruling. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Copyright misuse is a defense (not an independent cause of action) that one sued for infringement can raise. Courts will find that a plaintiff has engaged in copyright misuse if the enforcement of the plaintiff’s copyright will restrain the development of competing products. In this case, Psystar claimed that Apple’s enforcement of its software license restrained the development of competing hardware.

The court rejected that argument because Apple’s enforcement of its software license agreement, requiring that the software be used only on Apple hardware, did not restrict Psystar from developing its own software. The court found that:

Apple’s [software license agreement] does not restrict competitor’s [sic.] to develop their own software, nor does it preclude customers from using non-Apple components with Apple computers. Instead, Apple’s [software license agreement] merely restricts the use of Apple’s own software to its own hardware. . . . Psystar produces its own computer hardware and it is free to develop its own computer software.

This case solidifies Apple’s approach to enforcing a controlled, closed ecosystem for the distribution of software used for Macs and iDevices. Now that a federal court has found that Apple is not playing unfairly by keeping its users from loading Apple software onto non-Apple hardware, the company can likewise maintain the technological controls that ensure only approved applications are used in connection with the operating systems. Marketplaces for third-party hardware running Apple software would greatly lower the entry barrier for hackers and enthusiasts to play outside of the rules. But this decision from the Ninth Circuit keeps those rules firmly in place.

Court denies anonymous motion to quash subpoena in BitTorrent copyright case

First Time Videos v. Does 1-18, 2011 WL 4079177 (S.D. Indiana, September 13, 2011)

Plaintiff owns the copyright in an adult film that a swarm of anonymous “Doe” BitTorrent users allegedly traded. So plaintiff filed suit for infringement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and issued subpoenas to the internet service providers associated with the IP addresses of the unknown Doe defendants.

After one of the Doe defendant’s ISP, Insight Communications, put her on notice that the ISP was about to turn over her account information to plaintiff’s lawyer, Doe filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The court denied the motion.

Doe had raised several common arguments in support of the motion to quash. But the court rejected each of these:

  • Plaintiff had no protectable privacy interest in her ISP account information because that was held by a third party, namely, the ISP. Moreover, the court found that a subscriber has no privacy interest when there is an allegation of copyright infringement. (It would have been nice had the court put the words “valid” or “prima facie” before the word “allegation,” but alas, it did not.)
  • Responding to the subpoena was not unduly burdensome to Doe. The burden, if any, in responding to the plaintiff’s subpoena, would fall onto the ISP, not the anonymous defendant.
  • The fact that Doe denied involvement with trading porn files did not matter at this stage in the litigation. The court held that the question of liability for copyright infringement should be determined when the parties are properly brought into the suit.

So the court concluded that the anonymous Doe BitTorrent user should be identified.

Court deals blow to anonymous Bittorrent defendants’ efforts to challenge subpoenas

West Coast Productions v. Does 1 – 5,829, — F.Supp.2d —, 2011 WL 2292239 (D.D.C. June 10, 2011)

The judge in one of the well-known mass copyright cases filed by Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver a/k/a U.S. Copyright Group (West Coast Productions v. Does 1 – 5,829) has issued an order denying motions to quash filed by several of the unnamed defendants. Plaintiff had served subpoenas on the ISPs associated with the IP addresses allegedly involved in Bittorrent activity, seeking to learn the identity of those account holders.

The ruling is potentially troubling because the court refused to even consider the arguments presented by those anonymous parties who did not reveal their identity in connection with the motion to quash. Such an approach undermines, and indeed comes close to refusing altogether to recognize any privacy interest that a person may have concerning his or her ISP account information.

The court observed that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a party must identify himself or herself in the papers filed with the court. In some situations, however, a court may grant a “rare dispensation” of anonymity after taking into account the risk of unfairness to the party seeking anonymity as well as the general presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.

In this case, the court noted that other courts had “uniformly held that the privacy interest in [ISP account] information is minimal and not significant enough to warrant the special dispensation of anonymous filing.”

Absent from the court’s analysis was the potential for harm to defendants who were the subject of these subpoenas but might have the ability to demonstrate (anonymously) that they were not involved. In cases involving adult content, in particular, the harm of being publicly associated with that content — even if the association turns out to be in error — is one that should not be disregarded in this way. Moreover, taking away the ability of an anonymous defendant to challenge his unmasking will encourage extortionate-like behavior on the part of copyright plaintiffs hoping to extract a settlement early in the case. If writing a check is the only way to keep from having to turn one’s name over (and this case pretty much establishes that rule), then more settlements should be expected.

The court went on to reject the arguments in favor of motions to quash filed by John Does who had provided their contact information to the court. The court found that it was premature to rule on any objections based on a lack of personal jurisdiction because the defendants filing the motions had not actually been named as a party. And the court rejected the arguments that the defendants were improperly joined into the action, noting the allegations in the complaint that the IP addresses were involved in a single Bittorrent swarm.

Evan Brown is a Chicago-based attorney practicing technology and intellectual property law. Send email to ebrown@internetcases.com, call (630) 362-7237, follow on Twitter at @internetcases, and be sure to like Internet Cases on Facebook.

More subpoenas on the way to identify John Doe BitTorrent users in copyright cases

First Time Videos v. Does 1-37, 2011 WL 1431619 (N.D. California, April 14, 2011)

Hard Drive Productions v. Does 1-118, 2011 WL 1431612 (N.D. California, April 14, 2011)

There have been a couple of new cases filed in federal court in California alleging that unknown BitTorrent users committed copyright infringement and engaged in civil conspiracy by trading porn files online. [Read about some earlier, ongoing cases of this type here and here]. The court has issued orders that move the process of uncovering the identities of the John Doe defendant BitTorrent users.

Generally a plaintiff cannot start the discovery process in a case until it has had a “Rule 26(f)” conference with the defendant. But when the defendants are anonymous (as they are in these BitTorrent cases — they’re known only by IP address), the plaintiff has a bit of a problem. It needs discovery to find out the names of the defendants, but it cannot take discovery before the Rule 26(f) conference. [More on this]

So in cases like this, a plaintiff will ask the court to allow the early discovery to be had. Courts grant those motions allowing early discovery when good cause has been shown.

In this case, the court allowed the discovery because the following four criteria had been met:

(1) The plaintiffs had identified the Doe defendants with sufficient specificity that the court could determine that the defendants are real people who can be sued in federal court. On this point, the court credited the list of IP addresses associated with each of the unknown defendants.

(2) The plaintiffs recounted the steps taken to locate and identify the defendants. Again, the court looked to the fact that the defendants were known only by IP addresses. The names of the defendants could not be ascertained from the information available.

(3) The plaintiffs demonstrated that the action could withstand a motion to dismiss. In some cases this is a tough hurdle to get over. But in copyright cases the threshold can be met relatively easily — simply alleging ownership of a copyright and unlawful copying satisfies this element.

(4) The plaintiffs proved that the discovery was likely to lead to identifying information that will permit service of process. Getting the subscriber information from the ISPs would allow names to be associated with the IP addresses, for further action to be taken.

(The above 4-factor test is drawn from Columbia Ins. Co. v. seescandy. com, 185 F.R.D. 573, 578–80 (N.D.Cal.1999).)

So ISPs across the country will be getting peppered with more subpoenas, and sending out letters to their John Doe subscribers, giving deadlines to move to quash the subpoenas. More mad scramble to protect identities is on its way.

Court leaves thousands of BitTorrent copyright infringement defendants joined in single action

Call of the Wild Movie v. Does 1 – 1,062 — F.Supp.2d —, 2011 WL 996786 (D.D.C. March 22, 2011)

One of the craziest things about the copyright infringement lawsuits that have been brought against BitTorrent users accused of trading movies over the internet is the vast number of John Doe defendants that are usually lumped into one case. After the plaintiff copyright owners file a complaint for infringement — sometimes against thousands of anonymous defendants — they ask the court for leave to take expedited discovery. Then the movie companies serve subpoenas on the John Does’ internet service providers, asking the ISPs to disclose the identities of their customers associated with particular IP addresses.

Prosecuting a case against thousands of copyright infringement defendants is an enormous task, both for the plaintiffs’ attorneys as well as the ISPs who must respond to the subpoenas. Having so many defendants risks making the case unmanageable. So one may question whether it is appropriate under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to have so many unknown defendants all in the same case. In the nomenclature of civil litigation, the question is whether the joinder of all the defendants in one action is appropriate.

In three of the BitTorrent copyright cases pending in federal court in Washington DC brought by the US Copyright Group on behalf of a handful of independent film makers, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU and others argued improper joinder. These organizations filed amicus briefs in the cases of Call of the Wild Movie v. Does 1 – 1,062, Maverick Entertainment v. Does 1 – 4,350, and Donkeyball Movie v. Does 1 – 171, arguing that joining all the defendants in one action violated Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court rejected these arguments, finding that joinder was proper, at least in such early stages of the litigation where the defendants had not yet been identified.

The court considered three factors when answering the question of proper joinder: (1) whether the claims arose from the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences, (2) whether the legal and factual questions are common to all defendants, (3) and whether joinder would cause prejudice to any party or needless delay.

Same transaction or occurrence

The court observed that claims against joined parties must be “logically related,” and that this is a flexible test, with courts seeking the broadest possible scope of action. The court held that the claims against the BitTorrent users were logically related, based on plaintiffs’ allegations that the BitTorrent protocol makes every downloader of a file also an uploader, and accordingly, every user who has a copy of the infringing file on the network must necessarily be a source of download for that infringing file. This is an interesting finding, in that the strength of plaintiffs’ allegations were based on how BitTorrent works.

Common legal and factual questions

As for this second factor, the court found that the legal and factual questions were common because the parties would be litigating the same copyright claims, and all of the claims related to the use of BitTorrent.

Prejudice or needless delay

The court said some intriguing things about the interests of the parties in making its findings on this factor. For one, it said that leaving all the defendants joined in the same action would benefit them all, in that they would be able to see the defenses that other defendants were making. The court also expressed concern in favor of the efficiencies afforded the plaintiffs in filing these mass lawsuits. The plaintiff movie studios have been criticized for filing suit against large numbers of defendants in one action rather than separate suits against each defendant (and thereby having to pay only one filing fee to start the action versus several thousand filing fees). The court saw this question squarely in favor of plaintiff. It found that forcing plaintiffs to administer multiple actions, and having to pay the filing fees in all those actions “would certainly not be in the ‘interests of convenience and judicial economy,’ or ‘secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of the action.’”

Another massive porn Bittorrent copyright lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois

MCGIP, LLC v. Does 1-1,164, No. 10-7675 (N.D.Ill., filed December 2, 2010) [Download Complaint]

Filing of copyright infringement complaint will be precursor to more subpoenas seeking to identify unknown file-sharing defendants.

Another porn company has filed a copyright lawsuit against hundreds of anonymous John Doe defendants who allegedly used the Bittorrent protocol to trade plaintiffs’ copyrighted movies. So ISPs around the country should expect another wave of subpoenas sent to unmask these unknown file sharers. The works allegedly infringed in this case include provocative titles such as “Girlfriend Lost a Bet” and “Iraq Care Package.”

Interestingly, this complaint — unlike the complaints in similar Bittorrent porn copyright cases — contains a paragraph that tries to explain why over a thousand defendants should be joined in one lawsuit:

Joinder is appropriate because, on information and belief, each Defendant was contemporaneously engaged in a coordinated effort with the other Defendants to reproduce and distribute Plaintiff’s copyrighted works to each other and hundreds of third parties via the BitTorrent protocol.

This language appears to be an attempt to head-off arguments like those made by EFF and others in some of the other massive copyright infringement actions against scores of anonymous defendants.

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Negligence claim against RIAA fails because there was no physical injury

Andersen v. Atlantic Recording Corp., 2010 WL 4791728 (D.Or. November 18, 2010) [Download complaint]

Tanya Andersen has waged a years-long battle against the record companies after she was sued for copyright infringement for trading music files via a peer-to-peer network. She sued the RIAA and several record companies over a number of claims, including one for negligence, saying that the plaintiffs in the copyright case were negligent by “prosecuting sham litigation against” her and by failing to properly investigate the name of a pseudonymous file sharer.

The RIAA defendants moved for summary judgment on the negligence claim. The court granted the motion.

The court held that Oregon law (under which the negligence claim was brought) does not provide for the type of damages Andersen was seeking. She had claimed damages from emotional distress and physical ailments stemming from defendants’ alleged negligence.

Oregon’s “impact rule,” requires a “physical touching” for there to be emotional distress damages in cases like this. In this case, the actions of the plaintiffs that gave rise to Andersen’s alleged harm were the aggressive and otherwise objectionable tactics in pursuing the copyright litigation. Absent evidence of the required physical impact, her negligence claim failed.

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Class action lawsuit challenges Bittorent lawsuit factory’s business model

Well this is interesting. One of the bittorrent copyright defendants who has been victimized targeted by the law firm of Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, a/k/a the US Copyright Group, has filed a class action lawsuit against the law firm. The complaint [download], filed yesterday (November 24), is 96 pages long, includes 456 paragraphs of allegations, and contains 25 claims for relief. The claims include extortion under the Hobbs Act, common law extortion, conspiracy, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and a slew of fraud claims. Mounting a defense to this gargantuan effort is certainly going to cut into the profit margin that the US Copyright Group should expect from its dubious business model.

Smoked turkey company alleges that competitor infringed copyright in directions

Greenberg Smoked Turkeys, Inc. v. Goode-Cook, Inc., No. 10-621, (Complaint filed November 23, 2010, E.D. Texas) [Download the Complaint]

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for your continued support and interest in Internet Cases. It truly is a pleasure to write these posts and to get your feedback and engagement. And it’s also a pleasure to bring you news of this ultra-timely new copyright lawsuit.

Greenberg Smoked Turkeys, as you might expect, sells turkeys. Since 1987 it has distributed these turkeys with some simple instructions, comprised of three short paragraphs. You can read these instructions which are embedded in the complaint. It posted these instructions on its website in 2003.

Some time thereafter, Greenberg alleges, its turkey selling competitor copied the instructions and began using the instructions on its own website. Thus this lawsuit.

Infringement claims over instructions can be a tricky endeavor. In copyright law, there’s something called the “merger doctrine.” This relates to the idea-expression dichotomy: ideas are not copyrightable but their expression is. Simple instructions or directions may not pass this threshold: in their simplicity, they may be expressing something in the only possible way. That kind of expression does not rise to the level of copyrightability.

If Thomas Aquinas considered the copyright implications of Firesheep and Blacksheep

Whether Blacksheep infringes copyright by “leveraging” Firesheep’s code?

Objection 1: Firesheep claims that its purpose is to demonstrate security vulnerabilities and is not intended for nefarious purposes. Would not what it does be illegal otherwise? If it complained about others using its code for similar purposes, would that not illustrate that its objective is other than educational and at that point it would then be breaking the law?

Objection 2: Firesheep has put its code out there and others should be able to use it as they see fit, especially to protect themselves from how the Firesheep code may be used. Further, all Blacksheep does is provide the tool. It is the individuals using it who are the infringers. Blacksheep should be left out of the equation.

On the contrary, if by “leveraging” Firesheep’s code, Blacksheep causes a copy of the Firesheep code to be made, this copying, if unauthorized by Firesheep, would seem to constitue an infringement.

I answer that, Blacksheep markets its product for the very purpose of combatting Firesheep, so one may find that Blacksheep has distributed such “device” with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by its clear expression to foster infringement. As such, Blacksheep could be contributorily liable for the conduct of its users.

Reply to Objection 1: One’s characterization of his own purpose does not ultimately determine whether that purpose is legal. Consider the law’s unwillingness to exhonerate a person accused of inflicting a black eye based on the defense that the assault was to study of the biological origins of bruising. But just below the surface here is the sentiment of the “unclean hands” doctrine. A court will not award relief to a party who comes to court with “unclean hands.” It may seem unfair for Firesheep to be so exploitative of others (privacy rights) and at the same time complain that others are being exploitative of its copyright rights.

Reply to Objection 2: The stated purpose of education or furtherance of the public interest, should not preclude Firesheep from claiming copyright in its code. Consider that no reasonable person will deny public television stations’ claim of copyright on their programming. One would infringe by posting NOVA to YouTube.

[Um, what is this?]