copyright infringement

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.

Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California recently dismissed toy manufacturer Tangle’s copyright and trade dress suit against fashion retailer Aritzia. The suit was brought over Aritzia’s use of sculptures resembling Tangle’s toys in its window displays. Judge White’s decision serves as a reminder that copyright protection only extends to works that have been “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression; an artist’s “[s]tyle, no matter how creative, is an idea, and is not protectable by copyright.” Tangle Inc. v. Aritzia, Inc.

On May 18th, the Supreme Court handed down its much‑anticipated opinion in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith. We’ve tracked the progress of this case through the trial court, Second Circuit, and Supreme Court.

The case concerns whether the Andy Warhol Foundation violated a copyright held by photographer Lynn Goldsmith when it licensed a Warhol work called Orange Prince, based on Goldsmith’s photo, to Condé Nast for use on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Goldsmith’s photo of Prince was the basis of a series of silkscreen portraits and drawings by Warhol known as the Prince Series. The work at issue was created without Goldsmith’s knowledge or consent. She received none of the $10,000 licensing fee paid to the Warhol Foundation for use of the image.

Competition between Amazon’s third-party merchants is notoriously fierce. The online retail giant often finds itself playing the role of referee, banning what it considers unfair business practices (such as offering free products in exchange for perfect reviews, or targeting competitors with so-called “review bombing”). Last month, in the latest round of this push and pull, the online retail giant blew the whistle on several merchants who Amazon claims crossed a red line and may now have to face litigation in federal court.

On March 28th, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith, a case involving the core issues around copyright fair use. The case involves a series of Warhol drawings and silkscreen prints adapted from an original photograph of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith. Likely to interplay with the recent fair use decision in Google v. Oracle, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case has the potential to reshape the contours of fair use and the fate of the transformative use test. The outcome of the decision will have a widespread impact on how artists, particularly appropriation artists and creators of “fan art,” draw from other works.

The United States Supreme Court recently denied certiorari in Johannsongs-Publishing, Ltd. v. Peermusic Ltd., et al, bringing an end to a copyright infringement suit relating to Josh Groban’s 2003 song You Raise Me Up. Notably, in declining to hear a challenge to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that Groban’s song did not constitute infringement, the Court left in place a circuit split as to the applicable test for assessing substantial similarity between two works of authorship.

The United States Supreme Court, in Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., a recent 6-3 decision, found that innocent legal errors in copyright applications do not preclude copyright holders from taking advantage of the safe harbor provision of the Copyright Act, which protects registrants from having their copyrights invalidated due to inadvertent errors.  The Court’s ruling therefore made clear that such errors in copyright applications—including both mistakes of law and mistakes of fact—will rarely be the basis for invalidation.

When there is a right, there is a remedy—or so the maxim goes.  But when a state infringes upon your copyright, such a remedy may be more difficult to obtain.  Just a year ago, the Supreme Court held in Allen v. Cooper that the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act did not abrogate a state’s sovereign immunity, and therefore, absent consent, sovereign immunity prevents suits for copyright infringement against a state.  Are there any exceptions to this rule?  Are there alternatives causes of action or remedies available?  That is the question plaintiffs-appellants posed in Canada Hockey, L.L.C. v. Texas A&M Univ. Athletic Dep’t.  And the answer, at least in federal court in the Fifth Circuit, is no, though the Fifth Circuit left open the possibility for recovery in state court.