Tag Archives: Inc.

Fox News Network, LLC v. TVEyes, Inc.: Second Circuit Rejects Fair Use Defense

By: Scott J. Sholder

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today issued its much-anticipated opinion in the TVEyes appeal, reversing the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and holding that TVEyes’ copying, storage, and re-distribution for viewing, downloading, and sharing, of massive amounts of copyrighted TV content was not fair use.

TVEyes is a for-profit media company offering a service that allows its clients to “sort through vast quantities of television content in order to find clips that discuss items of interest to them.” TVEyes records 1,400 channels’ worth of TV broadcasts, 24 hours a day, and makes the copied content searchable by also copying the closed-captioned text that accompanies the videos. Clients can search for videos based on keywords and play unlimited video clips, each up to ten minutes in duration, and may archive, download, and share clips by e-mail. Clients pay $500 per month for these services.

The District Court held that the searching, archiving, and watching functions offered by TVEyes constituted fair use, but that the downloading and e-mailing functions did not. Fox only challenged the “watch” function (and its ancillary functions like downloading, archiving, and sharing), but not the search function.

At the outset of its opinion, the Court of Appeals noted the similarities between this case and Authors Guild v. Google, Inc., in which the court held that mass copying of books for purposes of limited text searching was fair use, but it explained that Authors Guild “test[ed] the boundaries of fair use,” and that TVEyes “has exceeded those bounds.” In sum, the court held that TVEyes’ re-distribution of copyrighted content was only modestly transformative under the first fair use factor, but that other fair use factors outweighed any transformative purpose. Despite myriad recent case law holding that transformative use is the most important fair use factor, the TVEyes court seemed to hearken back to a slightly earlier era of fair use and reiterated that the fourth factor – market harm – is “the single most important element.”

The court held that TVEyes’ copying could be considered transformative in that “it enables TVEyes’s clients to isolate from the vast corpus of Fox’s content the material that is responsive to their interests, and to access that material in a convenient manner.” Similar to the Sony “Betamax” case, the court noted that TVEyes’ watch function was also akin to time- and place-shifting, and “certainly qualifies as technology that achieves the transformative purpose of enhancing efficiency,” and so was “at least somewhat transformative.” However, the transformative character of the use was not enough to outweigh the commercial nature of the services offered because TVEyes “essentially republishes that content unaltered from its original form, with no ‘new expression, meaning or message.’”

The court found the second factor – the nature of the copyrighted works – inconsequential, but placed significant weight on the third factor, which analyses the amount of the copyrighted works made available to the public. This factor weighed in favor of Fox because, unlike in Authors Guild where Google Books made available only snippets, “TVEyes makes available virtually the entirety of the Fox programming that TVEyes users want to see and hear,” and given the brevity of most news reports, at very least copied and distributed “the entirety of the message conveyed by Fox to authorized viewers of the original” content.

Turning to the fourth factor, the Second Circuit agreed with Fox that “TVEyes undercuts Fox’s ability to profit from licensing searchable access to its copyrighted content to third parties.” Consumers were clearly willing to pay for such a service, and TVEyes therefore “deprives Fox of revenue that properly belongs to the copyright holder,” effectively usurping the market for Fox to offer similar aggregation, searching, and licensing services for its own content. This usurpation, combined with the amount of content offered and the modest transformativeness overshadowed by TVEyes’ commercial use of Fox’s content, defeated TVEyes’ fair use defense. The court remanded with instruction to the District Court to amend its permanent injunction accordingly.

Judge Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation, filed a separate concurring opinion to express his disagreement with the majority’s finding that TVEyes’ uses were at all transformative. He opined that the “somewhat transformative” designation was irrelevant given that the other fair use factors outweighed the transformative use, and that issuing such dicta would serve only to confuse the already complicated question of what constitutes transformative purpose. Nonetheless, Judge Kaplan expressed his own views on why TVEyes’ use of Fox’s content was not transformative, including that the mere “enhancing the efficiency with which copies of copyrighted material are delivered to secondary issuers” was not transformative because TVEyes simply repackaged and delivered the original content with no news aesthetics, insights, or understandings.

The Second Circuit’s decision is significant in that it further defines the outer boundaries of fair use by providing a concrete example of what falls outside the doctrine, which is helpful given the arguably expansive implications of the Authors Guild decision, and by distinguishing a facially similar service from the Google Books project it deemed fair use in that case. It also signals a potential shift in focus back to the “market harm” factor of fair use, and away from a strict focus on transformative purpose, but at the same time adds to the growing sense of confusion about what may be considered transformative, or in this case, “somewhat transformative.”

Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP drafted an amicus brief in this case on behalf of American Photographic Artists, American Society of Media Photographers, Digital Media Licensing Association, National Press Photographers Association, and Professional Photographers of America, in support of Fox News Network.

COURT PERMITS COPYRIGHT CLAIM TO PROCEED DESPITE REGISTRATION ERROR

Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard, LLP by Mikaela Gross and Nancy Wolff

For many copyright owners, especially those attempting to register works of visual arts, determining whether a work is published or unpublished for registration purposes is one of the more challenging issues and an impediment to registration. The District Court of the Southern District of New York, in Archie MD, Inc. v. Elsevier, Inc., (No. 16-CV-6614 (JSR), 2017 WL 3601180 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 20, 2017)) recently clarified the standard by which a copyright registration may be considered valid despite containing inaccurate information.

In 2005, Archie MD, Inc. entered into an Animation License Agreement (“ALA”) with the publisher Elsevier, Inc., under which Elsevier would license Archie’s library of 3-D medical animations for use in its various publications. About two weeks after entering into the ALA, and after Archie had delivered the works to Elsevier, Archie submitted a single copyright registration application for a group of unpublished works. This registration included the work at issue in this case, an animation entitled “Cell Differentiation.” The Copyright Office eventually registered the group of works on August 15, 2005.

In 2014, Archie gave Elsevier notice that it did not intend to renew the ALA, and the ALA expired on July 1, 2015. Archie subsequently file a copyright infringement action against Elsevier, alleging that after the expiration date, Elsevier continued to use hundreds previously licensed animations under the ALA and created unauthorized derivative works.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment, and the SDNY granted defendant Elsevier’s motion as to all but two of Elsevier’s new animations, on the grounds that Elsevier’s continued use of previously licensed animations did not constitute unauthorized use under the ALA and most of the new animations by Elsevier were not substantially similar to Archie’s animations. As to the remaining claims based on the “Cell Differentiation” animation, Elsevier contended that Archie’s copyright registration in unpublished works was invalid because the work was in fact published, and as a result, the court should dismiss Archie’s claim in its entirety. The court denied Elsevier’s motion for summary judgement as to “Cell Differentiation” on the basis that although the registration for “Cell Differentiation” contained an inaccuracy (namely that the work was unpublished, when it in fact was), this was not fatal to the registration under 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(1).

Section 411(b)(1) of the U.S. Copyright Act explains that a certificate of registration issued by the Copyright Office satisfies the registration prerequisite for filing a copyright infringement action regardless of the existence of inaccurate information in the certificate “unless— (A) the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration with knowledge that it was inaccurate; and (B) the inaccuracy of the information, if known, would have caused the Register of Copyrights to refuse registration.” To determine whether Archie’s registration failed to satisfy this prerequisite, the court had to answer two questions: first, whether or not “Cell Differentiation” was published or unpublished, and second, if it was published, whether this inaccuracy on the certificate of registration was fatal to the registration’s validity.

As to the first question, the court held that “Cell Differentiation” was in fact published when Archie licensed and delivered the file to Elsevier. Reasoning that Archie’s delivery of the “Cell Differentiation” digital file pursuant to worldwide license to, among other things, distribute “Cell Differentiation” to the public, satisfies the Copyright Act’s definition of publication under 17 U.S.C. § 101 because it constitutes an “offering to distribute copies . . . to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution.” That Elsevier had not yet made any further distributions of “Cell Differentiation” at the time the copyright registration application was filed was irrelevant, because the licensing and delivery of the files was itself an offering.

Because the certificate of registration listed “Cell Differentiation” as unpublished, the court turned to the statute to answer the second question. If an applicant knew its application contained inaccurate information, and if the Register of Copyrights would have refused registration had she known of this inaccurate information, then a subsequent registration certificate is invalid for purposes of filing a copyright infringement action. 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(2) requires that when an inaccuracy on a certification of registration is discovered, a court must ask the Register of Copyrights “whether the inaccurate information, if known, would have caused the Register of Copyrights to refuse registration.” The Register advised the court that she would have denied the application had she known of the inaccuracy in labeling “Cell Differentiation” unpublished. The key issue was whether Archie knew of the inaccuracy. Because the question of whether licensing a work constitutes publication was “an unsettled legal question at the time” Archie filed its copyright registration application in 2005, the court reasoned that Archie did not know of the inaccuracy. As a result Archi was able to proceed on its copyright claim for the work “Cell Differentiation”.

Publication remains a thorn in copyright owner’s side. While the plaintiff in this case was not considered to have knowledge that its works were published at the time of registration, those filing registrations after the later cases clarifying what is published will no longer have the benefit of this uncertainty. Because the Copyright Office would deny registration of an application with inaccurate information as to the works’ publication status, it is highly recommended that creators register works of visual art before any licensing agreements are signed or files are delivered for further distribution. Otherwise, published works, if photographs, can be registered by the photographer under a group registration of photographs application, but published and unpublished works are still required to be filed separately. Until this requirement is revised, visual artists will continue to face impediments to successful and effortless copyright registration.