In an innovative initiative in the battle against the Coronavirus, the newly-formed Open COVID Coalition (the “Coalition”) launched the Open COVID Pledge (the “Pledge”), a framework for organizations to contribute intellectual property to the fight against COVID-19. Pursuant to the Pledge, rightsholders can openly license intellectual property to facilitate the development of tools and technologies to counter the COVID pandemic. These would include the manufacturing of medical equipment and testing kits, as well as the development of software, AI and biotech solutions to contain and end the virus. Many major technology companies and other organizations have signed on to the Pledge.

The Coalition created a form of license which participants may to use to fulfill the pledge.  Under the license, the Open COVID License 1.0 (“OCL”), the pledgor grants a “non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-up license (without the right to sublicense)” to exploit the IP (other than trademarks or trade secrets) in products, services and other articles of manufacture “for the sole purpose of ending the ‘COVID-19 Pandemic’ (as defined by the World Health Organization, “WHO”) and minimizing the impact of the disease, including without limitation the diagnosis, prevention, containment, and treatment of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The term of the OCL is retroactive to December 1, 2019 and runs until one year after WHO declares the end of the pandemic. Under the OCL, the pledgor “will not assert any regulatory exclusivity against any entity for use of the Licensed IP” in accordance with the license grant, and agrees to not seek injunctive or regulatory relief to prevent any entity from using the licensed IP. As with some traditional open source licenses, the licensed IP is granted without any warranties and the license is suspended if the license threatens or initiates any legal proceeding against the pledgor. Lastly, all copyright and related rights granted under the OCL are deemed waived pursuant to the Creative Commons 1.0 Universal License (public domain dedication).

The U.S. Supreme Court’s busy intellectual property term (with six copyright and trademark cases) rolls on. On March 23, SCOTUS ruled in Allen v. Cooper, 589 U.S. ___, No. 18-877 (Mar. 23, 2020), that states, absent consent, may not be sued for copyright infringement. In particular, SCOTUS held that Congress did not have a sufficient constitutional basis to abrogate states’ sovereign immunity in copyright infringement actions when it passed the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990 (CRCA). However, the Court noted that, going forward, the ruling would not prohibit Congress from passing a more “tailored” copyright remedy statute if it found a valid basis to suspend sovereign immunity in copyright infringement cases against states.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit reinstated a $460,000 jury verdict against print-on-demand site Zazzle, Inc. (“Zazzle”) for willful copyright infringement, putting a final stamp (perhaps) on a long-running dispute that explored important DMCA safe harbor issues for online print-on-demand services. (Greg Young Publishing, Inc. v. Zazzle, Inc., No. 18-55522 (9th Cir. Nov. 20, 2019) (unpublished). The appeals court found that Zazzle’s anti-infringement oversight mechanisms were insufficient during the period of infringement when a number of the plaintiff’s Greg Young Publishing, Inc.’s (“GYPI”) visual art works were uploaded by users onto Zazzle’s site without authorization.

In early July, Ticketmaster reached a favorable settlement in its action against a ticket broker that was alleged to have used automated bots to purchase tickets in bulk, thus ending a dispute that produced notable court decisions examining the potential liabilities for unwanted scraping and website access. (Ticketmaster L.L.C. v. Prestige Entertainment West Inc., No. 17-07232 (C.D. Cal. Final Judgment July 8, 2019)).

In the litigation, Ticketmaster alleged that the defendant-ticket broker, Prestige, used bots and dummy accounts to navigate Ticketmaster’s website and mobile app to purchase large quantities of tickets to popular events to resell for higher prices on the secondary market. Under the terms of the settlement, Prestige is permanently enjoined from using ticket bot software to search for, reserve or purchase tickets on Ticketmaster’s site or app (at rates faster than human users can do using standard web browsers or mobile apps) or circumventing any CAPTCHA or other access control measure on Ticketmaster’s sites that enforce ticket purchasing limits and purchasing order rules.  Prestige is also barred from violating Ticketmaster’s terms of use or conspiring with anyone else to violate the terms, or engage in any other prohibited activity.

UPDATE: In March 2021, the Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling on fair use. On March 28, 2022, the Supreme Court granted cert. and agreed to hear the case. On May 18, 2023, the Supreme Court handed down its much‑anticipated opinion in the case. For a writeup of the opinion, please see our firm’s Minding your Business blog.

Earlier this month, in The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, No. 17-cv-2532 (S.D.N.Y. July 1, 2019), a New York district court granted the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ (“AWF”) motion for summary judgment that Warhol’s series of screen prints and silkscreen paintings (the “Prince Series”) did not infringe Lynn Goldsmith’s (“Goldsmith”) original 1981 photograph of the musician Prince, ruling that the Warhol works were transformative and qualified as fair use.

This Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, 586 U.S. ____ (Mar. 4, 2019), that a copyright owner may commence an infringement suit only when the Copyright Office determines whether or not to register a copyright, as opposed to when the owner submits an application and fee for registration. The widely-followed case resolves a simple question, but has far-reaching practical implications for U.S. copyright litigation.

Fair use can be one of the most difficult issues that copyright lawyers have to address due to decades of varying court rulings applying the multi-factor balancing test, particularly in the face of new technologies that use, modify, and aggregate data in ways not envisioned under the Copyright Act. The Second Circuit’s February 2018 fair use decision in the dispute between Fox News Network, LLC (“Fox”) and TVEyes, Inc. (“TVEyes”) added yet another wrinkle to fair use jurisprudence when the court emphasized market effect over transformative use, seemingly a departure from recent trends in the application of the balancing test. (See Fox News Network, LLC v. TVEyes, Inc., 883 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. 2018)).  In recent weeks, the Supreme Court denied TVEyes’ petition for certiorari, leaving in place the appeals court’s decision; and Fox and TVEyes settled the case, stipulating that TVEyes may no longer make available, distribute, or publicly perform or display Fox’s copyrighted video content.

TVEyes is likely to be an important decision for future fair use cases within the Second Circuit.

UPDATE: On November 1, 2018, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s amended complaint (which apparently dropped the CFAA claim and asserted Lanham Act and DMCA claims).  Specifically, the plaintiff asserted, among other things, that defendant removed the copyright management information (CMI) from plaintiff’s listings and website source code. The court ruled that plaintiff failed to show that the generic copyright notice at the footer of each web page covered the listings and images that the defendant allegedly scraped, noting that “websites generally do not claim ownership or authorship over an image just because the image appears on the website.” With no evidence that the defendant removed or altered any CMI from the listings it allegedly scraped, the court held that the DMCA claim failed. Following the filing of a second amended complaint, the court, on March 22, 2019, dismissed the action, with prejudice. Regarding the DMCA claim, the court stated that it was “simply not reasonable to expect a viewer of the website to understand that each photograph was subject to protection when there is nothing near the photographs indicating who owns them. Had Alan Ross intended to assert copyright protection for the photographs it owned, it should have included a watermark or other mark on or near the listings, rather than a general copyright notice at the bottom of the page that does not indicate to what it refers.” The court ruled that a general copyright notice on the bottom of a webpage is not CMI “conveyed in connection with” photographs and listings contained on those webpages. Lastly, the court held that the link to plaintiff’s website terms was also not CMI “conveyed in connection with the work” because the terms were located on a separate page than the listings that were allegedly scraped and did not expressly state ownership of the images and listings, merely that unauthorized copying is prohibited.  Following the dismissal, the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal to the Seventh Circuit.

This past week, an Illinois district court dismissed, with leave to amend, claims relating to a competitor’s alleged scraping of sales listings from a company’s website for use on its own site. (Alan Ross Machinery Corp. v. Machinio Corp., No. 17-3569 (N.D. Ill. July 9, 2018)).

The court dismissed a federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) claim that the defendant accessed the plaintiff’s servers “without authorization,” finding that the plaintiff failed to plead with specificity any damage or loss related to the scraping and did not allege that the unlawful access resulted in monetary damages of $5,000 or more as required to maintain a civil action under the CFAA.  In the court’s view, the “mere copying of electronic information from a computer system is not enough to satisfy the CFAA’s damage requirement.”  The court also dismissed plaintiff’s breach of contract claims, concluding that defendant did not have notice of the plaintiff’s website terms and conditions based upon an unenforceable browsewrap agreement.

In this long-running dispute that has been previously dubbed “The World Series of IP cases” by the presiding judge, Oracle America Inc. (“Oracle”) accuses Google Inc. (“Google”) of unauthorized use of some of its Java-related copyrights in Google’s Android software platform. Specifically, Oracle alleges that Google infringed the declaring code of certain Java API packages for use in Android, including copying the elaborate taxonomy covering 37 packages that involves multiple classes and methods.  Google had declined to obtain a license from Oracle to use the Java APIs in its platform or license the same under an open source GPL license; instead it copied the declaring code from the 37 Java API packages (over 11,000 lines of code), but wrote its own implementing code.  Google designed it this way, believing that Java application programmers would want to find the same 37 sets of functionalities in the new Android system callable by the same names as used in Java.

UPDATE: On September 27, 2018, the Supreme Court granted Rimini Street, Inc.’s petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Court to review part of the multi-million dollar damage award against it for costs and resolve an apparent circuit split over whether so-called “non-taxable costs” may be awarded under the Copyright Act (which allows for the recovery of “full costs”).  The question presented is: “Whether the Copyright Act’s allowance of “full costs” (17 U.S.C. § 505) to a prevailing party is limited to taxable costs under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1920 and 1821, as the Eighth and Eleventh Circuits have held, or also authorizes non-taxable costs, as the Ninth Circuit holds.”  On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the term “full costs” in §505 of the Copyright Act is limited to the six categories of taxable costs as specified at 28 U.S.C. §§1821 and 1920.

Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit issued a noteworthy ruling in a dispute between an enterprise software licensor and a third-party support provider.  The case is particularly important as it addresses the common practice of using automated means to download information (in this case, software) from websites in contravention of website terms and conditions.  Also, the case examines and interprets fairly “standard” software licensing language in light of evolving business practices in the software industry. (Oracle USA, Inc. v. Rimini Street, Inc., No. 16-16832 (9th Cir. Jan. 8, 2018)).