Tag Archives: amicus brief

Fourth Circuit Rules in Favor of Stock Photographer Russell Brammer

In October 2018 DMLA filed an amicus brief in support of photographer Russell Brammer’s appeal to the Fourth District over a questionable Virginia district court decision, which held that production company’s use of his stock photo of a Washington, D.C. neighborhood on a website promoting a film festival was fair use.

Our focus was on the extent of the market harm -and the impact the lower court’s decision would have on the licensing industry if this type of fair use of an image became widespread. Other visual artists associations as well as the Copyright Alliance, submitted amicus briefs on behalf of the photographer addressing other factors. This is great example of the industry coming together to correct a decision that if left to stand, could adversely affect the rights of content owners and members of DMLA if other courts followed the lower courts fair use analysis.

In the decision released on April 26, 2019, the Fourth Circuit determined that Violent Hues Productions, LLC’s use of a cropped version of photographer Russell’s photo of Adams Morgan in a list of tourist attractions on a website promoting the Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival did not qualify as a fair use.

This is also another good example of DMLA’s advocacy and how we use your dues monies to work for the benefit of the industry and your business.

Read the entire article here

Oracle defeats Google Fair Use Argument over Java Code Packets

No. 2017-1118, 2017-1202, 2018 WL 1473875 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 27, 2018)

by Nancy Wolff, DMLA Counsel

Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California’s ruling of fair use in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google LLC, and held that a verbatim and non-transformative taking in the presence of an actual or potential licensing market fatally undermined the defense. Oracle had sued Google for copyright infringement, alleging that Google had unlawfully used 37 packages of Oracle’s Java application programming interface – “pre-written Java source code programs” that serve as shortcuts for various computer functions to save programming time – in its Android-powered devices. Google copied verbatim 11,500 lines of Oracle’s copyrighted computer code as well as the structure, sequence, and organizing of the packages. After a second jury trial on fair use, Google prevailed on its fair use defense, and Oracle appealed after the district court rejected its post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court’s assessment, and analyzed each of the four fair use factors in 17 U.S.C. 107. In particular, under the first factor (nature and purpose of the use), the court held that Google’s use of Oracle’s code was both commercial and not “transformative” because the purpose of the software packages in Google’s Android operating system was the same as the purpose of the package in Oracle’s Java platform; Google did not change the expressive content or message of the code; and use of the code in smartphones as opposed to other computer hardware did not constitute “new context.” As many courts do, the Federal Circuit did not pay much heed to the second factor (nature of the copyrighted work), but emphasized under the third factor (amount of the work used), that the taking at issue here was more than was defensible. For instance, there was no dispute that only 170 lines of code were needed to write in Java programming language, but Google copied 11,500 lines.

The court spent considerable time discussing the fourth factor (effect on the potential market), focusing on harm to actual markets for the copyrighted work, as well as the market for potential and derivative uses. The court noted that the record clearly showed actual market harm in that Oracle’s copyrighted works had already been used in mobile devices, that Google directly competed with Oracle using Oracle’s own code, and that the existence of the free Android operating system caused significant damage to Oracle’s negotiating position with third parties like Amazon. The district court also had failed to consider potential market harm, including licensing Java “for smartphones with increased processing capabilities”; importantly, the court observed that just because Oracle had never built its own smartphone device was irrelevant “because potential markets include licensing others to develop derivative works.” Because factors one and four weighed heavily against fair use (factor two weighed in favor, and factor three was likely against), the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded for a trial on damages.

Even in industries unrelated to computers, mobile devices, software, and source code, the court’s broad pronouncement that “[t]here is nothing fair about taking a copyrighted work verbatim and using it for the same purpose and function as the original in a competing platform” is both powerful and beneficial to creators and licensors of copyrighted content. DMLA’s amicus brief with the support of the coalition of Visual Artists– and one of many amicus briefs in this hotly contested case– helped explain to the court of appeals the importance of licensing markets in fair use cases in general. Ultimately DMLA supported the winning argument and contributed to the creation of appellate-level precedent that will help image licensors everywhere in responding to many infringement claims, as it turns on harm to the licensing market.

Goldman v. Breitbart News, LLC: The Embedding Balance Has Tipped, per U.S. District Court

By: Scott J. Sholder and Nancy Wolff

On February 16, Judge Forrest of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Goldman v. Breitbart News, LLC – one of a pair of cases pending in Manhattan federal court concerning the practice of “embedding” copyrighted content – issued a ruling in favor of the plaintiff, photographer Justin Goldman, holding that embedding (or framing) content from another website does not immunize content users from copyright infringement claims. The court declined to adopt the Ninth Circuit’s “server test” as set forth in Amazon v. Perfect 10, holding that the location of the allegedly infringed work does not determine whether a defendant has “publicly displayed’ that work in violation of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights. Put another way, “the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party . . . does not shield” defendants from a finding that a plaintiff’s display right had been violated.

As background, this case is one of a pair of cases pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, that Justin Goldman has brought against various online media outlets to determine whether embedding images on a website through in-line linking without authorization constitutes copyright infringement. A website embeds an image using an in-line link when it uses HTML code to direct a user’s browser to an image file hosted on and transmitted from a server controlled by a third-party (usually another website) yet it appears as if the image resides on the website the user is actually viewing. The allegedly infringing website effectively opens a “window” allowing the user to see an image hosted by a third party, yet never actually copies, stores, or serves up the image itself.

Because of the 9th Circuit ruling in favor of the server test in Amazon v Perfect 10 (which DMLA filed an amicus brief opposing the server test) many digital media companies will use this technology. Many content owners and their representatives, believe this type of embedding harms the image licensing market by permitting the display of content without proper licensing.

The defendants in both the Breitbart cases lost initial motions to dismiss and moved in each instance for partial summary judgment on the question of the legality of embedding under the Copyright Act (a motion complete with amicus briefs). Goldman’s companion case, Goldman v. Advance Publications, Inc., et al., is pending in the same court but before a Judge Carter , and is at an earlier procedural stage.

At issue in the Breitbart summary judgment motion is whether the defendants’ embedding of a photograph posted on Twitter constitutes unauthorized “public display” of that photograph in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 106(5). The defendants, including Time, Inc., Yahoo, Inc., and Vox Media, own media outlets that reported about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s meeting with members of the Boston Celtics in the Hamptons – a newsworthy occurrence in the context of NBA player trades. Goldman captured a photograph of the athletes, which several Twitter users posted on the social media platform. The defendants then embedded tweets containing Goldman’s photograph using in-line linking. Goldman sued for copyright infringement, asserting that this display in connection with thestory violated his rights under copyright.

The Defendants, in moving for summary judgment opposing Goldman’s direct copyright infringement claims, rely heavily on Perfect 10 v. Amazon in which Google’s in-line linking of the plaintiff’s copyrighted images of nude models was not copyright infringement because the images were stored on the servers of third-party sites. Goldman counters that Perfect 10 was wrongly decided because the user still displays the photo; that there are significant technological differences between what Google did in Perfect 10 and embedding content from social media platforms; and that Perfect 10 does not apply because it is not precedential in the Second Circuit.

The court agreed and chiefly relied on the language of the Copyright Act, including § 101’s definition of “display,” which includes showing a copy of a work by any “device or process,” and transmitting or communicating a display by means of any “device or process.” The court explained that the Copyright Act does not require a user to possess, or to store at their own physical location, a copy of the work to display it within the meaning of the statute. The court further looked to legislative history and the 2014 decision in Aereo to note the application of the Copyright Act to new technologies.

Consequently, the district court found that the defendant websites engaged in processes that resulted in transmission and “display” of the photograph at issue even though the photograph was stored on Twitter’s servers, noting the seamless presentation of the photograph on their websites from the perspective of a website visitor. Moreover, the court expressed skepticism that Perfect 10 correctly interpreted the Copyright Act’s display right, but that, even so, there were key factual and technological differences that distinguished it from the Breitbart case. Specifically, in Perfect 10, the defendant, Google, operated a search engine that indexed web content for easy reference and facilitation of access, and users made active choices to click on images before they were displayed, whereas in Breitbart, users simply viewed a webpage that displayed an image regardless of whether the user specifically looked for it or clicked on it. Moreover, the court found that very few cases followed the “server test,” and so was unconvinced that there was an “unbroken” line of cases supporting the position set forth in Perfect 10.

Goldman’s companion case against Advanced Publications, Inc., is still pending, with Judge Carter staying discovery and requesting immediate notification of a decision in the Breitbart case as of January 19, 2018. It remains to be seen whether Judge Carter will be influenced by Judge Forrest’s decision, and whether any appeals will be forthcoming.

Judge Forrest’s decision is seen as a victory for content owners, creators, and licensors who believe that the technological machinations behind how content is posted should not serve as a workaround to proper licensing. Presumably the case closes a perceived loophole against IP licensing, and its scope would apply to the display right of any content. While the blogs (and particularly the tech writers) were a buzz about how this case ruins sharing online, the Breitbart court did not believe that the resultant impact of its decision on the Internet at large would have as “dire consequences” as predicted by the defendants and their amici, and noted that in this case, strong defenses to liability separate from the “server test” still exist, including proper ownership, licensing/authorization, fair use, the DMCA safe harbor, and innocent infringement. Nonetheless, these defenses only come into play once a claim or action is asserted, so proper instruction on licensing is still important.

DMLA supported Getty Images and other visual artists associations in filing an amicus brief supporting Goldman in opposition to the server test. A copy of the amicus brief is here and the decision is here.


DMLA joins in amicus brief in VHT v Zillow, supporting VHT’s award of statutory damages based on number of infringed images under a database group registration of photographs

On Monday December 18, 2017, DMLA joined NPPA, ASMP and GAG in submitting an amicus brief before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of VHT, a real estate photography company against Zillow, an online real estate platform on the narrow issue of the proper calculation of statutory damages based on multiple infringed images registered using a database registration consisting predominantly of photographs. The appeal by Zillow argues, among other issues, that the district court erred in awarding statutory damages to VHT based on each image infringed having independent economic value, despite being registered under a single database registration of photographs, which Zillow argues should only entitle VHT to one award of statutory damages regardless of the massive number of images infringed. The relevant question in the Zillow case hinges on what a court considers a “work” under Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act, each separate image filed within the application, or the database as a whole, which would be one work.

The amicus brief supports the view that the independent value test applied by the lower court, and previously adopted by the Ninth Circuit is the correct one. The amicus brief describes the historical background of the various group registration procedures designed by the U.S. Copyright Office, to ease the administrative burden of registration of photographs which has unique challenges given the amount of images a photographer can create in a day.  In particular, the database registration of photographs was developed with input from DMLA and its members (formerly PACA) to protect images distributed through online platforms, which formerly were distributed via published print catalogs. The amici argue that the form of registration should have no impact on whether the independent works covered by the registration should be considered a single work, entitled to a single statutory damage or multiple works entitled to damages for each work infringed. The outcome of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling could have a major impact on the ability of image libraries and their contributing photographers to recover appropriate damages from infringers who use more than one of their photographs without permission, based on group registration, particularly those in the Ninth’s Circuit’s jurisdiction which includes California, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.

The brief, which you can find here, was filed by NPPA’s Deputy General Counsel, Alicia Calzada, with support from DMLA’s attorneys Nancy Wolff and Marissa Lewis of Cowan, DeBaets , Abrahams and Sheppard LLP. An amicus brief on another important issue in the case—secondary liability—was filed in support of VHT by the Copyright Alliance (link: http://copyrightalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Copyright-Alliance-VHT-v-Zillow-Amicus-Brief.pdf ), where DMLA is a member.

Ninth Circuit Affirms Right To Display, License And Sell Photographic Prints Without Violating Subject’s Publicity Rights.

Maloney v. T3Media 

By Brianna Dahlberg of Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP

On April 5, 2017, in a victory for visual content creators and licensors, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by former college athletes alleging that T3Media had misappropriated their names and likenesses by selling licenses to photographs from the NCAA Photo Library. The Ninth Circuit held that the athletes’ claims for right of publicity and unfair competition under California law were preempted by the federal Copyright Act.

In their putative class action lawsuit, the athletes had sought to hold T3Media liable for displaying the photographs online and for offering non-exclusive licenses to consumers permitting them to download a single copy of a chosen image for non-commercial art use. The athletes did not own copyright to the photographs at issue—the copyrights were owned by the NCAA, who had contracted with T3Media to store, host, and license the images. T3Media responded to the athletes’ lawsuit by filing a special motion to strike under California law, which was granted by the district court. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision throwing out the athletes’ lawsuit and awarded attorneys’ fees to T3Media.

In its opinion, the Court clarified the test for determining whether a right of publicity claim is preempted by the Copyright Act. Section 301 of the Copyright Act provides a two-part test for determining whether a state law claim is preempted: first, the court asks whether the subject matter of the state law claim fell within the subject matter of copyright; and second, the court asks whether the state law rights asserted were equivalent to rights within the scope of copyright. Applying this test to the athlete’s right of publicity claims, the Court drew a distinction between claims based on the unauthorized use of a person’s likeness in advertising, and claims based on the mere display or distribution of an artistic work:

[A] publicity-right claim may proceed when a likeness is used non-consensually on merchandise or in advertising; but where a likeness has been captured in a copyrighted artistic visual work and the work itself is being distributed for personal use, a publicity-right claim is little more than a thinly-disguised copyright claim because it seeks to hold a copyright holder liable for exercising his exclusive rights under the Copyright Act.

The Ninth Circuit’s opinion in T3Media’s favor is consistent with longstanding practices in the visual content industry. It affirms that visual content creators and providers, by merely displaying and offering for license images that depict people, do not make any use that implicates the right of publicity. The decision provides clear guidance that will allow visual content creators and licensors to continue to offer creative, newsworthy, and culturally important images to the public.

Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP submitted an amicus brief in support of T3Media on behalf of the Associated Press, the Digital Media Licensing Association, Getty Images (US), Inc., the Graphic Artists Guild, the National Press Photographers Association, Inc., PhotoShelter, Inc., the Professional Photographers of America, Shutterstock, Inc., and ZUMA Press, Inc. [A copy of the amicus brief is here). We thank everyone who participated and joined the brief. The attorneys representing T3 Media were extremely grateful for our industry support to counter all the amicus briefs submitted by the various sports’ leagues.