It has been eight months since the Supreme Court’s landmark copyright fair use decision in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Art, Inc. v. Goldsmith. Much has been written on the subject, including in this forum, but in many ways it was a narrow decision. The Court held that the commercial licensing of Orange Prince, a work in Andy Warhol’s Prince series based on a photograph by Lynn Goldsmith, was not protected under the first factor of the four-factor fair use test under 17 U.S.C. § 107. Its discussion of the transformative use test emphasized the similarity of the uses the works were put to (depicting Prince on magazine covers), rather than the characteristics of the works themselves. This, the Court said, prevents judges from acting as art critics to determine the aesthetic differences between, or meanings behind, artistic works.
There is a time and place for everything, or so they say. Eminem and Too $hort are both somewhat polarizing artists. From songs such as Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet” to Too $hort’s infamous “Blow The Whistle”, some of their more provocative music has been put in the spotlight in the workplace of an apparel manufacturer. Stephanie Sharp and six other employees, including one man, filed a hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against their employer. The plaintiffs alleged that many employees, “mostly women”, complained to the employer about the “obscene and sexually offensive and misogynistic character” of the music being played in the workplace, even as far as various employees placing speakers on a forklift and driving around the facility blasting the music. However, notably, “a number of men” were also “offended by the manner in which the music portrayed men, and their relationships with women.” The employer argued that the conduct was not discriminatory on the basis of sex, emphasizing that “both men and women were offended by the work environment allegedly created by the music played in the warehouse.”
On October 4, 2022, a Second Circuit panel affirmed the lower court’s decision that defendant Sirius XM Radio Inc.’s ads showcasing The Howard Stern Show do not violate plaintiff John Edward Melendez’s publicity rights. The ruling affirmed the Southern District of New York’s grant of defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims under California common and statutory law, agreeing that plaintiff Melendez’s claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 301.
Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York recently denied a motion to dismiss in a copyright dispute involving the unlicensed “embedding” of a social media video. In doing so, the court explicitly and definitively rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “server rule,” under which the Ninth Circuit held that re-posting of online content does not constitute a separate act of infringement where the infringing copy is stored only on third party servers. Instead, Judge Rakoff held that by re-posting the copyrighted content online, defendants had implicated plaintiffs’ exclusive display right – regardless of whether they created and stored a copy on their own servers. The opinion states that to hold otherwise would be to “make the display right merely a subset of the reproduction right.” Nicklen v. Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., et al.
On June 30, 2021, pop star Kesha was reportedly handed a victory by a New York state court, which ruled that the state’s new anti-SLAPP legislation applied retroactively to music producer Dr. Luke’s lawsuit, in which he claims Kesha defamed him by allegedly falsely accusing him of rape.
The court’s decision means that Dr. Luke will face an elevated burden of proof at trial, needing to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Kesha acted with “actual malice” when she made her allegations against him. Previously, a New York state trial court held that Dr. Luke was not a public figure and therefore only had to prove that Kesha either knew her statements were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. That court did not take into account the new anti-SLAPP law, which was passed on November 10th, 2020.
The Second Circuit recently upheld a ruling that streaming giants Apple, Amazon, and Netflix engaged in fair use, in a case concerning the use of plaintiff musicians’ song in a documentary film available for viewing on defendants’ streaming platforms. In doing so, the Court found the eight-second snippet of the song was performed in a way that was transformative, and reasonably necessary to convey the film’s message. Brown, et al. v. Netflix, Inc. et al.
Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Central District of California recently awarded singer Lizzo a major victory in a copyright dispute concerning the artist’s hit song “Truth Hurts.” In her ruling, Judge Gee dismissed with prejudice a claim that Lizzo must share copyright ownership of “Truth Hurts” with the plaintiffs in the case, because the co-ownership claim was based only on the plaintiffs’ contributions to a prior independent work. See Melissa Jefferson v. Justin Raisen et al.
On August 18, the D.C. Circuit directed the Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”) to reconsider what royalties are owed to artists by Music Choice for its streaming services, vacating the final determination of the Copyright Royalty Board. In the Court’s view, the CRB wrongfully excluded internet transmissions from the grandfathered royalty rate paid by some music services that were early providers of digital music transmissions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). Music Choice v. CRB, No. 19-1011