Intellectual property is a right enshrined in our very Constitution, which grants Congress the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”[1] Congress has made use of that power by legislating a wide birth of laws defining what is a copyright, how to get one, and what it protects.[2] Surprising to many lay observers, architectural works are specifically protected copyrights.[3]

Continue Reading Architectural Copyrights: No Need to Pay the Troll Toll

Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of Judge Thomas S. Zilly of the District Court of the Western District of Washington in favor of defendant John Doe, a retired police officer accused of illegally downloading and distributing adult content produced by Strike 3 Holdings LLC. [1] Agreeing with the district court’s finding that Strike 3 failed to prove its claim that the defendant pirated its adult films, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s order requiring Strike 3 to pay defendant John Doe $47,777 in costs and fees.

Continue Reading Retired Police Officer Prevails Against Adult Film Studio Strike 3 Holdings in Proving His Innocence in Copyright Infringement Suit

In our overstimulated environment with a plethora of brands, names, and marks, it is difficult for products to stand out. Some businesses, however, have managed to break through the noise by creating marks with lasting impressions on consumers. But there are limits, even for the most well-known brands such as Starbucks.

Continue Reading Survey Evidence Not Enough to Show Acquired Distinctiveness of Starbuck’s Green Dot on Coffee Cup

After the release of the hit animated motion picture Inside Out, Denise Daniels and The Moodsters Company sued the Walt Disney Company for copyright infringement and alleged that the Inside Out characters impermissibly resembled Daniels’ Moodsters characters. See Daniels v. Walt Disney Co., No. 17-CV-4527 PSG (SKx), 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117569 (C.D. Cal. May 9, 2018). After the district court granted Disney’s motion to dismiss based upon its finding that The Moodsters characters were not protectable by copyright, Daniels appealed. On March 16, 2020, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal agreeing The Moodsters did not qualify for copyright protection. See Daniels v. Walt Disney Co., 952 F.3d 1149 (9th Cir. 2020).

Continue Reading Copyrightability of Fictional Characters – the Difference Between Superman and Chessmen

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