copyright infringement

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.

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.

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.