Shape of Water, the winner of Best Picture, Best Director, and other Oscars, captivating audiences around the world, has come under fire for plagiarism. The 2017 film has been accused of borrowing heavily from a 1969 play called Let Me Hear You Whisper. The infringement claims were originally dismissed by the district court based on finding the two works shared merely a “basic premise” and “minor similarities.” Zindel v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., No. CV 18-1435 PA, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123872 (C.D. Cal. July 23, 2018). On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit reversed noting the district court judge was too quick to dismiss the case – reasonable minds could differ on whether the two works are substantially similar. Zindel v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., No. 18-56087, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 19444 (9th Cir. June 22, 2020).

Continue Reading The Oscar-Winning Film Shape of Water Must Defend Copyright Infringement Claims From Playwright

In 2017, a New Orleans Jazz Musician, Paul Batiste’s (“Batiste”), sued the world-renowned duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (“Macklemore”) alleging the duo copied eleven of his songs. Batiste v. Lewis, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69130, 2019 WL 1790454 (E.D. La., Apr. 23, 2019). Batiste claimed Macklemore had, without permission, digitally sampled Batiste’s songs, and as a result, Macklemore’s hits, “Can’t Hold Us,” “Thrift Shop,” “Neon Cathedral,” “Same Love,” and “Need to Know” were based on or derivatives of Batiste’s copyrighted musical works. The district court disagreed after finding Batiste failed to sufficiently prove Macklemore had “access” to Batiste’s music and that Macklemore’s songs were strikingly similar to Batiste’s. Additionally, the district court held Batiste liable to pay Macklemore’s attorney fees pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505.

Continue Reading Can’t Hold Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Liable for Copyright Infringement Says Fifth Circuit

Notoriously litigious, Louis Vuitton Malletier (“Louis Vuitton”) aggressively polices unauthorized use of its famous marks, logos, and protected designs, especially in the digital age when selling counterfeit goods is as easy as setting up a website.

Continue Reading Providers of Web Hosting Services Liable for Contributory Infringement of Louis Vuitton’s Trademarks and Copyrights

In 2012, BGK Trademark Holdings, LLC applied for registration of the trademark BLUE IVY CARTER with the consent of Blue Ivy, daughter of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter and Shawn Corey Carter (Jay-Z), but was met with opposition from the owner of the mark BLUE IVY for event planning. In dismissing the opposition, the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board (TTAB) rejected the Opposer’s claims of likelihood of confusion, lack of bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce, and fraud. Morales v. BGK Trademark Holdings LLC, Opposition No. 91234467 (T.T.A.B. 2020).
Continue Reading Beyoncé Fends off Challenge to Daughter’s “Blue Ivy Carter” Mark From Owner of Event Planning “Blue Ivy” Mark

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has something a lot of people want – a household name. That is why some try to capitalize on the Trump name by incorporating it into a slogan or saying in an attempt to obtain a federal trademark registration. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”), however, has rejected such attempts, including a recent application for “Trump Too Small” for various forms of shirts that criticized President Donald Trump, obviously without the President’s approval. In re Steve Elster, Serial No. 87749230 (T.T.A.B. July 2, 2020). The Board, for the second time, ruled that proposed trademarks incorporating the name “Trump” were not federally registrable.

Continue Reading Applicant Comes Up Short in Rejected “Trump Too Small” Trademark Application

Recently, the Eastern District of Virginia upheld a music piracy jury verdict against the internet service provider Cox Communications. See Sony Music Ent. v. Cox Commc’ns, Case No. 1:18-cv-950-LO-JFA, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105071 (E.D. Va. June 2, 2020). The jury returned a $1 billion damage award against Cox Communications who was accused of knowingly allowing subscribers to share and download infringing songs via peer-to-peer sharing platforms such as BitTorrent. Holding an internet service provider liable for the infringing acts of its users, this case sets the stage for a closely watched appeal.

Continue Reading Internet Service Provider (ISP) Cox Communications Found Liable to the Tune of $1 Billion For Allowing Users to Illegally Share Music Files on Peer-to-Peer Networks

Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors produce some of the best-selling light beers in the United States — Bud Light, and Miller Lite and Coors Light, respectively — and regularly attack each other with witty ad campaigns. During Super Bowl LIII, Anheuser-Busch unveiled an advertisement campaign focused on the idea that Bud Light is made using rice as opposed to corn syrup. The Bud Light advertisements called attention to Miller Lite and Coors Light’s use of corn syrup as a source of sugar for the fermentation process. In response, Molson Coors advertised that its beer tastes better because of the corn syrup, which is not the same as high-fructose corn syrup used in other consumer products. Molson Coors also filed a lawsuit arguing that Anheuser-Busch violated Section 43 of the Lanham Act “by implying that a product made from corn syrup also contains corn syrup.”

Continue Reading Anheuser-Busch Not Liable for False Advertising for Pointing Out to Consumers that Miller Lite and Coors Light Use “Corn Syrup”

More than 250,000 Humvees have been built since the 1980s, making them a distinct feature of the nation’s military history over the past quarter-century. As a result, the vehicle has become a recognizable staple in military-themed movies, television shows, newscasts, and video games. According to a group of curious law professors, the Humvee has been featured in over 1,000 movies and shows. But the maker of Humvees thought the inclusion of its military vehicles in the wildly successful Call of Duty video games infringed on its trademark rights. The Southern District of New York disagreed, however, and reaffirmed that video games, such as movies and television shows, can feature real-life trademarks, such as Humvees, without infringing on the owner’s trademark. See AM Gen. LLC v. Activision Blizzard, Inc., 17 Civ. 8644 (GBD), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57121 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2020). Citing the First Amendment, the District Court determined the game developer could not be held liable for trademark infringement for featuring Humvees in its Call of Duty video games. Dismissing the lawsuit, the court found the video game maker had the right to use a real-life well-known military vehicle in an expressive work focused on realistically depicting modern combat and warfare.

Continue Reading Freedom of Expression: Use of Humvees in Call of Duty Franchise Games Not Infringement

After the debut of hit show Empire, record label Empire Distribution asserted trademark infringement counterclaims against Twentieth Century Fox Television, who sought a declaratory judgment that its television show and associated music releases did not violate Empire Distribution’s trademark rights. In Twentieth Century Fox TV v. Empire Distribution, Inc., 875 F.3d 1192 (9th Cir. 2017), the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the First Amendment protected Fox’s use of the name “Empire” for an expressive, creative work and ancillary works. In doing so, the appellate panel reaffirmed First Amendment protection for use of marks in creative works where the use of the mark bears some artistic relevance to the underlying work and does not explicitly mislead consumers.

Continue Reading Battle of the Empires: Permissive Trademark Infringement in Creative Works

Balancing Individual John Doe Defendants’ Privacy Rights With Strike 3’s Right to Pursue Its Copyright Infringement Claims

Digital piracy on peer-to-peer networks can have severe financial consequences for copyright holders. As one member of Congress put it:

Under U.S. law, stealing intellectual property is just that—stealing. It hurts artists, the music industry, the movie industry, and others involved in creative work. And it is unfortunate that the software being used—called “file sharing,” as if it were simply enabling friends to share recipes, is helping create a generation of Americans who don’t see the harm. [1]


Continue Reading Strike 3 Saga: Turning BitTorrent Downloads Into A Copyright Infringement Settlement Machine Part 3