Posts in Copyright Litigation

Kat Von D Meets Tiger King: Has Warhol Destroyed Transformative Fair Use?

Celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D recreated a photograph of a famous musician in ink on her client’s arm and posted photos of the process online. Netflix docuseries “Tiger King” incorporated video footage of a real-life funeral as part of its documentary coverage of the deceased’s husband. The two parties were sued separately for copyright infringement—of the photograph, in Kat Von D’s case, and the video, in Netflix’s case.

Publishing Companies Say Google is Liable for Promoting Pirated Textbooks

Several major educational publishing companies, including Macmillan, Elsevier and McGraw Hill, have sued Google in a New York district court alleging contributory and vicarious copyright infringement, trademark infringement and violations of New York’s General Business Law. The companies claim that Google’s search engine is facilitating infringement by promoting pirate sites that sell heavily discounted versions of educational textbooks.

SCOTUS Rejects Three-Year Limit on Copyright Damages But Sidesteps Accrual Question

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued its decision in Warner Chappell Music v. Nealy, a case that asks whether a copyright plaintiff can recover damages for acts that allegedly occurred more than three years before the filing of a lawsuit. The Justices ruled 6-3 that “the Copyright Act entitles a copyright owner to recover damages for any timely claim,” with no limit preventing recovery for infringement that happened beyond three years. As to the issue of when a claim for infringement “accrues,” the Court said it “assumes without deciding” that accrual occurs upon discovery of the infringement.

The Rise of IP Lawsuits When Posting Images: How to Navigate and Avoid Copyright Infringement Issues

Picture this: You own a women’s swimwear business. You engage your customers by curating eye-popping images on social media that exude athleticism and style. While browsing online, you find a photo posted by someone else of a woman in one of your pink swimsuits diving into a pool. You instantly know that this woman is exactly who your customers want to be! You share it on your profile with the caption, “Making waves wherever I go” and link to your swimsuit for purchase. Within hours the post racks up 50,000 likes and 2,000 swimsuit orders. But the excitement quickly wears off when you receive an email from a law firm representing the photographer, claiming you infringed her copyright.

Thaler, Copyright Office Fight Over Human-Authorship Requirement for AI-Created Artwork Continues

On April 10, Dr. Stephen Thaler filed a reply brief  at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, continuing the artificial intelligence (AI) technologist’s legal challenge to the U.S. Copyright Office’s refusal to register copyright to an artwork generated by Thaler’s Creativity Machine. The reply brief argues that there is no human authorship requirement under the U.S. Copyright Act preventing Thaler from claiming copyright in the AI-generated work, and that standard principles of property law enables ownership of the work to vest in Thaler, who created the AI system at issue in the case.

The Licensing Vector: A Fair Approach to Content Use in LLMs

A spate of recent lawsuits is shining light on how some generative AI (GenAI) companies are using copyrighted materials, without permission, as a core part of their products. Among the most recent examples is the New York Times Company’s’ lawsuit against OpenAI, which alleges a variety of copyright-related claims. For their part, some GenAI companies like OpenAI argue that there is no infringement, either because there is no “copying” of protected materials or that the copyright principle of fair use uniformly applies to generative AI activities. These arguments are deeply flawed and gloss over crucial technical and legal issues. They also divert attention from the fact that it is not only possible but practical to be pro-copyright and pro-AI.

Heirs to Author of Article That Inspired Top Gun Crash and Burn in California District Court

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled on Friday that Shosh Yonay and Yuval Yonay, the widow and son of Ehud Yonay, who authored a 1983 magazine article that inspired the renowned film, Top Gun, were not entitled to damages for copyright infringement related to the 2022 sequel to the film. Yonay authored a magazine article titled “Top Guns,” published in California Magazine on April 21, 1983, that was an account of the experiences of F-14 pilots in training at Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, known as “Top Gun.”

New York Times Hits Back at OpenAI’s Hacking Claims

In an opposition brief filed Monday, The New York Times Company (The Times) told a New York district court that OpenAI’s late February claim that The Times “paid someone to hack OpenAI’s products” in order to prove OpenAI infringed its copyrights amounts to little more than “grandstanding.” In late December 2023, the Times became the latest of many complainants to accuse OpenAI’s Large Language Model, ChatGPT, as well as Microsoft’s GPT-4-powered Bing Chat, of widespread copyright infringement. The Times alleged that Microsoft and OpenAI reproduce Times content verbatim and also often attribute false information to the Times. The Times’ opposition brief filed yesterday responds to OpenAI’s recent motion to dismiss, which alleged that The Times paid someone to target and exploit “a bug (which OpenAI has committed to addressing) by using deceptive prompts that blatantly violate OpenAI’s terms of use.”

Examining the Possibility of Compulsory Copyright Licensing for LLM Training

ChatGPT and similar generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools rely on large language models (LLMs). LLMs are fed massive amounts of content, such as text, music, photographs and film, which they analyze to discover statistical relationships among these inputs. This process, describe as “training” the LLMs, gives them the ability to generate similar content and to answer questions with seeming authority. The business community, and society at large, seems convinced that AI powered by LLMs holds great promise for increases in efficiency. But multiple lawsuits alleging copyright infringement could create a drag on development of LLMs, or worse, tip the competitive balance towards offshore enterprises that enjoy the benefits of legislation authorizing text and data mining. A lot seems to hang on the question of whether LLM training involves copyright infringement or instead is a fair use of copyrighted content.

DIG, Dogs and Bad Wine: Justices Float Scrapping Warner Chappell to Consider Alternate Petition on ‘Discovery Accrual Rule’ for Copyright

Oral arguments took place today in Warner Chappell Music v. Nealy, a case that asks whether a copyright plaintiff can recover damages for acts that allegedly occurred more than three years before the filing of a lawsuit. The Justices repeatedly asked the parties involved whether they should dismiss the case as having been improvidently granted (DIG) in order to first grant and decide another pending case that directly addresses a technically peripheral, but seemingly crucial, question at issue in Warner Chappell, namely, whether the so-called discovery accrual rule applies to the Copyright Act’s statute of limitations for civil claims.  

Mechanical Licensing Collective Sues Pandora for Unpaid Royalty Fees Under MMA

On February 12, the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) filed a lawsuit against streaming music company Pandora Media in the Middle District of Tennessee seeking unpaid royalty fees for blanket licenses under the Music Modernization Act (MMA). The case, prompted by recent final determinations on blanket license royalty rates, could prove an interesting test case on the level of interactivity and personal control required before a streaming service qualifies as a covered activity under the MMA.

Fourth Circuit Finds No Transformative or Noncommercial Use of Ted Nugent Photo in Online Article

On February 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in Philpot v. Independent Journal Review reversing a ruling that an online reproduction of a photograph of singer-songwriter Ted Nugent constituted fair use. The Fourth Circuit further found that professional photographer Larry Philpot was entitled to summary judgment on the validity of his copyright registration, vacating the Eastern District of Virginia’s determination that a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to the accuracy of Philpot’s registration application.

Battle Between Newspaper Giant and Generative AI Boils Down to Definition of Fair Use

The training of artificial intelligence models using copyrighted material continues to stir debate and prompt litigation. In the latest salvo, the New York Times Company sued Microsoft and OpenAI – the creator of ChatGPT – for infringement under the federal Copyright Act. As often is the case with claims like these, the merits will center on the fair-use doctrine, a well-recognized legal principle in copyright law that aims to balance the interests of copyright holders with the public benefit of free speech and creative works. Fair use is a defense to a claim of copyright infringement that must be affirmatively invoked by the accused infringer.

Richard Prince Effectively Settles, Dodging Post-Warhol Fair Use Ruling

On Thursday, final judgments were issued in a pair of copyright infringement cases that arose from a now infamous 2014/2015 project New Portraits, where appropriations artist Richard Prince displayed Instagram photos and user comments as a purported commentary on social media and art. The two nearly identical final judgments were entered in favor of the photographer plaintiffs’ claims that Prince and the exhibiting galleries willfully infringed on their photographs, and the court dismissed all the defenses raised – including the fair use defense – with prejudice.

SCOTUS Grants Solicitor General’s Bid to Argue in Case About Retrospective Relief Under Copyright Act

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted a request by the U.S. Solicitor General to participate in oral argument as an amicus in Warner Chappell Music v. Nealy, which challenges a circuit court ruling that, under the discovery accrual rule, monetary damages for infringement under the Copyright Act are available for acts occurring outside of the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations. The Solicitor General is urging the Supreme Court to affirm the lower ruling and uphold the Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation of the High Court’s ruling in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (2013) over competing interpretations in the Second Circuit.