Subpoena to university in P2P case must give time to notify parents

UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Doe, No. 08-3999, 2008 WL 4104207 (N.D.Cal. September 4, 2008)

Plaintiff record companies, using Media Sentry, found the IP address of a John Doe file-sharing defendant, and filed suit against Doe in federal court for copyright infringement. As in any case where a defendant is known only by his or her IP address, the record companies needed some discovery to ascertain the name and physical address matching that IP address. But the federal rules of procedure say that without a court order, a party cannot seek discovery until the parties have conferred pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(f).

So the record companies sought the court order allowing them to issue a subpoena to Doe’s Internet service provider prior to the 26(f) conference. The court granted the order, but with a caveat.

The evidence showed that Doe was a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act at 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, a college generally cannot disclose “any personally identifiable information in education records other than directory information.” There’s an exception to that rule when the college is answering a lawfully issued subpoena, provided that “parents and the students are notified of all such … subpoenas in advance of the compliance therewith by the educational institution or agency.”

The court granted the record companies’ motion for leave to serve the subpoena prior to the Rule 26(f) conference, but required that the subpoena’s return date “be reasonably calculated to permit the University to notify John Doe and John Doe’s parents if it chooses prior to responding to the subpoena.”

Veoh eligible for DMCA Safe Harbor

[Brian Beckham is a contributor to Internet Cases and can be contacted at brian.beckham [at] gmail dot com.]

Io Group, Inc. v. Veoh Networks, Inc., 2008 WL 4065872 (N.D.Cal. Aug. 27, 2008)

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Veoh’s hosting of user-provided content is protected by the DMCA safe harbor provision, and that it does not have a duty to police for potential copyright infringement on behalf of third-parties, but rather must act to remove infringing content when so put on notice.

IO produces adult films; Veoh hosts, inter alia, its own “Internet TV channels” and user-posted content (much like YouTube). In June 2006, IO discovered clips from ten (10) of its copyrighted films ranging from 6 seconds to 40 minutes in length hosted on Veoh. Rather than sending Veoh a “DMCA Notice & Takedown” letter, IO filed the instant copyright infringement suit. (Coincidentally, Veoh had already removed all adult content sua sponte — including IO’s prior to the suit). Had Veoh received such a notice, so the story goes, it would have removed the content, and terminated the posting individual’s account.

When a user submits a video for posting, Veoh’s system extracts certain metadata (e.g., file format and length), assigns a file number, extracts several still images (seen on the site as an icon), and converts the video to Flash. Prior to posting, Veoh’s employees randomly spot check the videos for compliance with Veoh’s policies (i.e., that the content is not infringing third-party copyrights). On at least one occasion, such a spot check revealed infringing content (an unreleased movie) which was not posted.

Veoh moved for summary judgment under the DMCA’s Safe Harbors which “provide protection from liability for: (1) transitory digital network communications; (2) system caching; (3) information residing on systems or networks at the direction of users; and (4) information location tools.” Ellison, 357 F.3d at 1076-77. Finding that Veoh is a Service Provider under the DMCA, the Court had little trouble in finding that it qualified for the Safe Harbors. IO admitted that Veoh “(a) has adopted and informed account holders of its repeat infringer policy and (b) accommodates, and does not interfere with, “standard technical measures” used to protect copyrighted works”, but took issue with the manner in which Veoh implemented its repeat infringer policy.

Veoh clearly established that it had a functioning DMCA Notice & Takedown system:

  • Veoh has identified its designated Copyright Agent to receive notification of claimed violations and included information about how and where to send notices of claimed infringement.
  • Veoh often responds to infringement notices the same day they are received.
  • When Veoh receives notice of infringement, after a first warning, the account is terminated and all content provided by that user disabled.
  • Veoh terminates access to other identical infringing files and permanently blocks them from being uploaded again.
  • Veoh has terminated over 1,000 users for copyright infringement.

The Court held that Veoh did not have a duty to investigate whether terminated users were re-appearing under pseudonyms, but that as long as it continued to effectively address alleged infringements, it continued to qualify for the DMCA Safe Harbors; moreover, it did not have to track users’ IP addresses to readily identify possibly fraudulent new user accounts.

The Court further noted that: “In essence, a service provider [Veoh] is eligible for safe harbor under section 512(c) if it (1) does not know of infringement; or (2) acts expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material when it (a) has actual knowledge, (b) is aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent, or (c) has received DMCA-compliant notice; and (3) either does not have the right and ability to control the infringing activity, or – if it does – that it does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity.”

The Court found that (1) there was no question that Veoh did not know of the alleged infringement — since IO did not file a DMCA Notice (2) it acted expeditiously to remove user-posted infringing content, (3) it did not have actual knowledge of infringement, (4) it was not aware of infringing activity, and (5) it did not have the right and ability to control the infringing activity (the Court did not address any financial benefit).

In sum: the Court “[did] not find that the DMCA was intended to have Veoh shoulder the entire burden of policing third-party copyrights on its website (at the cost of losing its business if it cannot). Rather, the issue [was] whether Veoh [took] appropriate steps to deal with [alleged] copyright infringement.”

There is much speculation as to how, if at all, this case will affect the Viacom / YouTube case. YouTube praised the decision, Viacom noted the differences. Each case turns on its own facts, but to the extent there are similarities, this decision is wind in YouTube’s sails.

Case is: IO Group Inc.(Plaintiff), v. Veoh Networks, Inc. (Defendant)

Sender of DMCA takedown notice should consider fair use

Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., No. 07-3783 (N.D. Cal. August 20, 2008). [Download the opinion]

Hat tip to Joe Gratz for breaking this story.

One of the things that a person sending a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has to swear to is that he or she “has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.” 17 U.S.C. §512(c)(3)(A) (emphasis added). If the sender of the takedown notice makes a knowingly material misrepresentation as to whether the law authorizes the use of the material, the party whose content is taken down can sue under 17 U.S.C. §512(f). This serves as a backstop against DMCA takedown abuses.

Suppose that the complained-of work may be protected by fair use. If the sender is deliberately ignorant of that possibility, can that result in a misrepresentation that runs afoul of 512(f)? That question had not been answered before today, when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said “yes.”

The case is Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., No. 07-3783. You may have heard of this case before, as it’s the one where the mom filmed her daughter dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and uploaded that to YouTube, only to have it removed after a Universal DMCA takedown notice. Lenz sued under §512(f) and Universal moved to dismiss.

In its motion to dismiss, Universal contended that copyright owners cannot be required to evaluate the question of fair use prior to sending a takedown notice because fair use is merely an excused infringement of a copyright rather than a use authorized by the copyright owner or by law.

But the court disagreed. “[T]he fact remains that fair use is a lawful use of a copyright. Accordingly, in order for a copyright owner to proceed under the DMCA with ‘a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law,’ the owner must evaluate whether the material makes fair use of the copyright.” The court went on to say that “[a]n allegation that a copyright owner acted in bad faith by issuing a takedown notice without proper consideration of the fair use doctrine thus is sufficient to state a misrepresentation claim pursuant to Section 512(f) of the DMCA.”

Because Lenz’s complaint contained allegations of this nature, it was detailed enough to pass Twombly muster [Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, — U.S. —-, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)], and the case moves forward.

The practical effect of this decision is that one sending a DMCA takedown notice without considering whether the person who posted the content is making a fair use, does so at his or her peril. Let’s be clear — the decision does not mean that sending a takedown notice in a situation where it turns out to be a fair use will automatically result in a finding of §512(f) misrepresentation. But it does add another implicit item on the checklist of the takedown notice sender.

Statutory damages for copying competitor’s catalog on website

Silver Ring Splint Co. v. Digisplint, Inc., 2008 WL 2478390 (W.D.Va. June 18, 2008)

Silver Ring and Digisplint are competitors in a niche industry, each producing and selling fine jewelry quality finger splints made of gold and sterling silver. Silver ring sued Digisplint for copyright infringement alleging that Digisplint copied text from Silver Ring’s 1994 catalog, and posted that text on Digisplint’s website.

Before trial, the court awarded summary judgment to Silver Ring on the question of liability for copyright infringement. The question of damages proceeded to trial. Finding that “nearly identical and very similar text comprise[d] substantial portions of both [works],” and that the similarities were “obvious and persuasive,” the court awarded Silver Ring $30,000 in statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §504(c)(1). It found that Digisplint’s copying was willful, and although Digisplint reaped no profits from the infringement, the award was to serve as a deterrent to future conduct of the sort.

Digisplint had filed a counterclaim pursuant to the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) over Silver Ring’s registration of digisplint.com. The court found in favor of Digisplint on this claim, and entered an injunction against any further registration of a confusingly similar domain name. But because Silver Ring registered the domain name in 1998, prior to the enactment of the ACPA, Digisplint was entitled to no money damages, only an injunction.

Court tosses abuse of process claim brought by former file sharing defendant

Chan v. Priority Records, LLC, No. 07-15449, 2008 WL 2447147 (E.D. Mich. June 18, 2008)

Priority Records sued Candy Chan for copyright infringement, claiming she used iMesh to download and trade music files. The record company withdrew the suit when Ms. Chan told them it was her daughter that traded the files. The daughter became a defendant too, but that case was thrown out on a procedural issue.

Ms. Chan tried to recover her attorney’s fees in the copyright lawsuit against her, but the court denied the request. So she filed her own lawsuit against Priority Records, its law firm, and Settlement Support Center, alleging abuse of process and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The defendants moved to dismiss. The court granted the motion.

It held that Ms. Chan’s claims could have — and, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(a) should have — been brought as compulsory counterclaims. Ms. Chan had raised these issues (but did not file the counterclaim) in the underlying copyright suit. Most of the allegations in this suit alleged illegal conduct occurring prior to the filing of the underlying copyright suit. And many of the allegations involved only Ms. Chan’s daughter, not Ms. Chan herself.

Auction of promo CDs covered under first sale doctrine

UMG Recordings v. Augusto, —F.Supp.2d —-, 2008 WL 2390037 (C.D. Cal. June 10, 2008)

Some record companies create promotional CDs that they distribute to music industry insiders before an album is released. These promo CDs bear the following language:

This CD is the property of the record company and is licensed to the intended recipient for personal use only. Acceptance of this CD shall constitute an agreement to comply with the terms of the license. Resale or transfer of possession is not allowed and may be punishable under federal and state laws.

Troy Augusto is not an industry insider, but he bought copies of promo CDs in record stores and online, and he resold those copies on eBay. Record label UMG sent a notice to eBay under eBay’s Verified Rights Owner program (“VeRO”) and got Augusto’s account suspended. UMG also sued Augusto for copyright infringement. Augusto counterclaimed under Section 512(f) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), claiming that UMG knowingly misrepresented to eBay that the auctions infringed UMG’s copyrights.

CD

Both sides moved for summary judgment on whether Augusto had infringed, and Augusto also moved for summary judgment on the DMCA misrepresentation claim. The court granted Augusto’s motion as it related to infringement, but denied it as to misrepresentation.

The court found that Augusto’s conduct was protected by the first sale doctrine. This principle is codified at 17 U.S.C. §109(a) and provides that “the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under [Title 17 of the United States Code]… is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” To invoke the first sale doctrine, Augusto had to show that (1) the CDs were lawfully manufactured with UMG’s authorization, (2) UMG transferred title to the CDs, (3) Augusto was the lawful owner of the CDs, and (4) Augusto disposed of, but did not reproduce, the CDs.

In this case, it was undisputed that the CDs were lawfully manufactured by UMG and that Augusto did not reproduce them. The remaining elements, i.e., that UMG transferred title to the CDs and Augusto was the lawful owner of them, hinged on the question of whether the mailing of the CDs to the industry insiders resulted in a transfer of title.

The court found that title to the CDs passed because the language on them did not create a valid license, and the recipients were entitled to treat the CDs as gifts pursuant to the Postal Reorganization Act, 39 U.S.C. §3009.

In determining that the purported license was invalid, the court found that a significant hallmark of a license — an intent to regain possession — was missing. Further, the absence of any recurring benefit to UMG (the recipients were under no obligation to promote the music) suggested the distribution was a mere gift or sale, and not a license.

Moreover, the only benefit to UMG in having the provision enforced as a license would be to restrain trade, which would run contrary to century old Supreme Court precedent.

The court determined that the CDs were, under the Postal Reorganization Act, a gift. Under that act, if one mails unordered merchandise to a consumer without the consumer’s consent, the merchandise may be treated as a gift, and the consumer may dispose of it as he or she sees fit. Despite UMG’s argument to the contrary, the court held that industry insiders receiving the promo CDs were consumers. The court further held (rejecting UMG’s argument) that the Postal Reorganization Act did not apply only to merchandise for which payment was requested.

In rejecting Augusto’s DMCA Section 512(f) claim that UMG misrepresented the fact of infringement when it demanded eBay remove the auctions, the court found that UMG had a subjective good faith belief in its assertions. Under the holding of Rossi v. MPAA, 391 F.3d 1000 (9th Cir. 2004), this subjective good faith belief could not constitute a Section 512(f) misrepresentation.

UMG and Motley Crue sued for infringement of band photos

Toma v. Motley Crue et al., No. 08-3479 (N.D. Ill., Filed June 17, 2008)

The purported owner of the copyright in photos taken of members of Motley Crue way back in 1981 has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that the band, Universal Music Group and Singatures Network have committed copyright infringement. [Read the Complaint] Interesting to see UMG, who is frequently on the dishing-it-out side in so many of the file sharing lawsuits now being put in the position of taking it.

The claims in the lawsuit are pretty straightforward, and the complaint is written in typical federal pleading bare bones style. In a nutshell, plaintiff Toma allegedly acquired the copyright in the photos through assignment from the photgrapher, one Michael Pinter (though Toma didn’t seek registration until March of this year). The defendants are alleged to have committed infringement by “publishing and selling” copies of the images.

Toma seeks actual damages plus costs and attorney’s fees (not sure of the basis for an attorney’s fee award given the timing of registration) as well as injunctive relief from any futher infringement.

North Carolina supreme court reverses employee hard drive removal decision

Removal of hard drive and false claim of copyright ownership in company website and catalogs were misconduct sufficient to disqualify former employee from receiving unemployment benefits.

Binney v. Banner Therapy Products, Inc., — S.E.2d —-, 2008 WL 2370887 (N.C. June 12, 2008)

I covered this case back in 2006 after the appellate court’s decision. Now the state supreme court has reached a different conclusion.

Employee Binney was fired from her job because she claimed a copyright in the company’s website and catalogs (which she had helped create) and also because she took the hard drive of her work computer home with her over the weekend without asking. After she was terminated, she sought unemployment benefits. Her employer contested the claim.

Hard drive on a wooden table

The administrative body in charge of determining unemployment benefits found that Binney was terminated for employee misconduct and therefore not entitled to receive anything. Binney appealed that decision to a trial court, which affirmed the denial. She then appealed to the state appellate court, which reversed, and found that that given Binney’s position and responsibilities in the company and the reasonableness of her conclusions as to ownership of copyright, her actions did not rise to the level of misconduct that warranted a denial of benefits. [Internet Cases coverage of that decision.]

But the state supreme court reversed the appellate court, meaning that Binney is not entitled to benefits. The supreme court concluded that the appellate court incorrectly applied the standard of review, namely, whether the decision to deny benefits was based on “any competent evidence”.

As for the alleged misconduct of taking the hard drive home, the supreme court found that although the employer had no policy on removing hard drives, that did not contradict the administrative body’s finding that the employer did not authorize the hard drive’s removal. So there was competent evidence in the record that the removal was unauthorized, and corresponding misconduct in having removed it.

And as for claiming copyright in the website and materials, the supreme court similarly found that a determination of misconduct was supported by the record. Whether Binney believed in good faith that she had a personal copyright interest in the materials was irrelevant. She never asked for nor received permission to assert a personal claim on the company’s property by including the copyright statements, so in doing so, she engaged in misconduct.

Ben Stein’s “Expelled” film permitted to use clip from Lennon’s “Imagine”

Judge Stein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled last week that use of portions of the song “Imagine” in the film “EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed” were protected as fair use. Plaintiffs Yoko Ono and record label EMI sued Defendants (the producers of the film) for copyright infringement seeking an injunction to stop the use. After hearing oral arguments and viewing the movie, the Court found that the Plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of showing irreparable harm since “on the basis of the current record, defendants are likely to prevail on their affirmative defense of fair use.”

“Expelled”, a full-length movie on intelligent design narrated by Ben Stein uses a 15-second clip of the song with the words “nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too” transposed on the screen over black and white archive sequences (including a military march and a close up of Stalin). Immediately preceding the excerpt several speakers express the hope that science will diminish religion. In a voiceover, Stein notes the speaker “would like you to think he’s being original but he’s merely lifting a page out of John Lennon’s songbook.”

According the one producer, “the film undertakes to inspire viewers to participate in the scientific, political, cultural, and religious debates surrounding [intelligent design].” Defendants obtained permission to include every song in the movie except Imagine. Defendants timed the films release to coincide with state “Academic Freedom” bills (which permit teachers to criticize the theory of evolution.)

The Court first determined that Plaintiffs established a prima facie case of copyright infringement by showing (1) ownership of a valid copyright and (2) unauthorized copying. Accordingly, absent the injunction there is a presumption of irreparable harm. Turning next to Defendants defense of fair use, the Court held that (quoting Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 and U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8), that “some opportunity for fair use of copyrighted materials [is] necessary to fulfill copyright’s very purpose, ‘[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. . . ‘.”

Taking the fair use factors into consideration, the Court held that: (1) the use of Imagine is not merely exploitative, and since the movie stimulates debate, the commercial purpose of “Expelled” weighs weakly against fair use (Defendants’ use is transformative and for purposes of criticism and commentary, i.e., “what the filmmakers see as the naïveté of John Lennon’s views [in that] ‘Imagine’ is a secular anthem caught in a loop of history recycling the same arguments from years past through to the present,” thus “it is not necessary that defendants [transform] the music or lyrics of the song”, nor that Defendant’s could have made the film without the clip, moreover, the failure to seek permission did not weigh against fair use (2) the film comments on the song, and does not exploit its creative virtues, (3) “both quantitatively and qualitatively, the portion of ‘Imagine’ that defendants copy is reasonable in light of their purpose for doing so [, and thus] weighs in favor of fair use”, and (4) there is absolutely no evidence that the film’s use will usurp the market for “Imagine.”

Balancing the potential hardships to the parties if an injunction were issued, the evidence favored Defendants, especially since Plaintiffs were not likely to lose any licensing revenue. Unless Yoko and EMI expel this decision on appeal, they will not Win Ben Stein’s Money.

Case is: Lennon v. Premise Media, No. 08-3813

Resale on eBay o.k. under First Sale Doctrine?

Last week the U.S. District Court in Seattle denied Defendant Autodesk’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Vernor’s case, and held that under the circumstances, the sale of AutoCAD on eBay was protected by the First Sale Doctrine.

Vernor makes a living reselling goods on eBay. He found himself in hot water after trying to sell four copies of Autodesk’s AutoCAD on eBay, and sought a declaratory judgment from the Court that he was entitled to sell these copies of AutoCAD.

In 2005, Vernor bought a copy of AutoCAD at a garage sale. He then listed it on an eBay auction. When Autodesk found out about Vernor’s eBay auction, it sent eBay a notice and takedown request alleging that copyright infringement would occur if Vernor were allowed to sell its product. Vernor filed a counter-notice claiming his proposed sale was lawful. eBay reinstated the auction, and the sale was completed. Fast forward to 2007 when Vernor bought four copies of AutoCAD for sale on eBay. He was able to sell three copies after going through similar notice and takedown / reply correspondence as in 2005. When he tried to sell the fourth copy, eBay suspended his account for one month for alleged “repeat infringement.” He sued for a declaration that his proposed sale was lawful, and that Autodesk’s actions were unfair competition.

Vernor acquired his copies of AutoCAD from CTA who had acquired them from Autodesk as part of a settlement. Each copy contained a Software License Agreement which contained a “nonexclusive, nontransferable license to use the enclosed program … [including prohibiting] transfer … to any other person without Autodesk’s prior written consent.”

Contrary to Autodesk’s assertion, the Court held that Vernor did make out a valid cause of action, and that there is an actual case / controversy between the parties per the Declaratory Judgment Act. Moreover, the Court also held that “If It Applies, the First Sale Doctrine Immunizes Mr. Vernor” since “[t]he first sale doctrine permits a person who owns a lawfully-made copy of a copyrighted work to sell or otherwise dispose of the copy.” The Court also cited with approval Quality King Distribs., Inc. v. L’Anza Research Int’l, Inc., 523 U.S. 135, 152 (1998) which noted that “[w]hen a copyright holder chooses to sell a copy of his work, however, he ‘exhaust[s] his exclusive statutory right to control its distribution’.” The Court noted by way of example that “the first sale doctrine permits a consumer who buys a lawfully made DVD …to resell the copy, but not to duplicate the copy.”

Autodesk claims (as would arguably all software companies) that since it licensed AutoCAD, there was no sale, and thus Vernor is not an “owner” and the First Sale Doctrine does not apply. The Court points out the key question: “whether Autodesk’s transfer of AutoCAD packages to CTA was a sale or a mere transfer of possession pursuant to a license.” If it was a sale, Autodesk would be limited to a breach of contract claim against CTA. The Court notes that there is no bright-line rule as to what constitutes a sale versus a transfer, but that “[i]n comparing the transactions found to be sales in Wise with those that were not, the critical factor is whether the transferee kept the copy acquired from the copyright holder.” (emphasis added). Thus in this case, since CTA, and subsequently Vernor kept the copies of AutoCAD, there was a sale. The Court noted in a footnote that: “[e]ven if Autodesk could revive its “exhausted” distribution rights by reclaiming title to software copies it sold, Autodesk did not reclaim title. It merely required CTA to destroy its copies.” This might mean that software vendors will amend license language to avoid this issue in the future, along with more aggressively policing possession of their software requiring licensees to return copies of software so as to avoid First Sale issues (or that they could provide limited-term renewable licenses which contain a DRM-type “auto-destroy” feature – similar to the way iTunes limits via license the number of machines its customers can upload a song to).

The Court does note a series of decisions which run counter to the reasoning in United States v. Wise, 550 F.2d 1180, 1187 (9th Cir. 1977), but ultimately follows Wise in finding that “the transfer of AutoCAD packages from Autodesk to CTA was a sale with contractual restrictions on use and transfer of the software. Mr. Vernor may thus invoke the first sale doctrine, and his resale of the AutoCAD packages is not a copyright violation.” The Court also notes that other jurisdictions may have reached a different conclusion. This case has important implications for consumers and the software industry, and given the noted Circuit split, might not ride off into the sunset just yet.

William Patry provides an informative commentary here.

Case is: CASE NO. C07-1189RAJ (U.S. Dist Court of Washington at Seattle)

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