Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Entertainment & Sports Law
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Plaintiff Curtis James Jackson III, the hip-hop recording artist known as 50 Cent, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant William Leonard Roberts II, the hip-hop recording artist known as Rick Ross, on the grounds that Jackson's claim of violation of the Connecticut common law right of publicity is preempted by the Copyright Act. The complaint alleged that, on the mixtape entitled Renzel Remixes, Roberts' use of Jackson's voice performing "In Da Club," as well as of Jackson's stage name in the track title identifying that song, violated Jackson's right of publicity under Connecticut common law.The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that Jackson's claim is preempted under the doctrine of implied preemption. In this case, Jackson's Connecticut right of publicity claim does not seek to vindicate any substantial state interests distinct from those furthered by the copyright law, and the policy considerations justifying the doctrine of implied preemption prevail.In the alternative, the court held that Jackson's claim as to the use of his voice on the mixtape is preempted by the express terms of section 301 of the Copyright Act. The court explained that the gravamen of Jackson's right of publicity claim, to the extent it is based on the use of the "In Da Club" sample, is not the use of his identity but rather the use of the copyrighted work itself, and that the focus of his claim therefore comes within the subject matter of copyright. Furthermore, to the extent that Jackson's right of publicity claim is based on the reproduction of a copyrighted work embodying Jackson's voice, that claim is preempted by section 301 because (1) its focus is Roberts' use of a work that falls within the "subject matter of copyright" and (2) it asserts rights that are sufficiently equivalent to the rights protected by federal copyright law. View "Jackson v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's third amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), alleging that defendants violated the Copyright Act by copying creative aspects from his unreleased science fiction videogame, including his use of a tardigrade -- a microscopic animal -- traveling in space, in their television series Star Trek: Discovery.Even assuming that actual copying occurred, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege substantial similarity between protectible elements of his videogame and elements from Discovery. The court explained that, overall, the presence of Ripper the tardigrade in Discovery is minimal, as it only appears in three episodes. Therefore, after extracting the unprotectible elements from plaintiff's videogame -- the scientific facts, general ideas, science fiction themes constituting scènes à faire, and generalized character traits -- the court held that the videogame and Discovery are not substantially similar because the protectible elements are markedly different. View "Anas Osama Ibrahim Abdin v. CBS Broadcasting Inc." on Justia Law

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A 1988 consent order settled a suit brought by plaintiff against past and then present members of the rock band known as Lynyrd Skynyrd, seeking to clarify each party's rights with respect to the use of the name "Lynyrd Skynyrd" and their rights to make films about the band and their own lives.In this case, the Second Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and vacated its permanent injunction prohibiting distribution of a film about the band and other related activities, holding that the terms of the consent order were inconsistent, or at lease insufficiently precise, to support an injunction. The court reasoned that, even though the injunction has allegedly been imposed as a result of private contract rather than government censorship, it nonetheless restrained the viewing of an expressive work prior to its public availability, and courts should always be hesitant to approve such an injunction. The court held that the injunction restricted the actions of an entity that was not a party to the contract that was alleged to be the source of the restriction; Cleopatra in this case. Furthermore, the film told a story about the history of the band, as well as the experience of Artimus Pyle with the band. The court held that provisions of a consent decree that both prohibit a movie about such a history and also permit a movie about such an experience were sufficiently inconsistent, or at least insufficiently specific, to support an injunction. View "Ronnie Van Zant, Inc. v. Cleopatra Records, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sports photographers filed suit seeking to recover damages on copyright, contract, and tort theories of liability after the NFL exploited thousands of their photographs without a license and without compensation. The photographers also brought an antitrust challenge alleging that the NFL and AP conspired to restrain trade in the market for commercial licenses of NFL event photographs. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim.The Second Circuit held that the photographers' allegations plausibly supported an inference that before the 2012 AP-NFL agreement was signed, AP had not granted the NFL a complimentary license to use the photographers' works, and the NFL knew it. The court vacated the photographers' claims for copyright infringement against AP and the NFL relating to the NFL's use of photographs from 2009 to present; claims for copyright infringement against AP, the NFL, and Replay relating to uses of the photographs in connection with the Replay Photo Store; claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against AP; and claims for fraud against AP. The court affirmed in all other respects and remanded for further proceedings. View "Spinelli v. National Football League" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, members of a musical group called "Sly Slick & Wicked," filed suit alleging that Dynatone and others collected royalties from the sampling of their song, "Sho' Nuff" in 2013 and that plaintiffs were entitled to those royalty payments. The Second Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that a repudiation of plaintiffs' claims with respect to the original terms constituted a repudiation of the renewal terms. In this case, plaintiffs did not have reasonable notice that defendants had filed a registration in the capacity of employer for hire. Therefore, the registration did not constitute effective repudiation, triggering an obligation for plaintiffs to bring suit. Accordingly, the court vacated this portion of the judgment. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' state law accounting claim for failure to allege a fiduciary duty. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings as to plaintiffs' renewal term copyright claims. View "Wilson v. Dynatone Publishing Co." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of NASL's motion for a preliminary injunction seeking a Division II designation pending the resolution of its antitrust case against USSF. Applying the heightened standard applicable to mandatory preliminary injunctions, the court held that NASL failed to demonstrate a clear likelihood of success on the merits of its antitrust claim against USSF under 15 U.S.C. 1. In this case, even assuming that NASL's allegations showed a conspiracy, NASL failed to show that the agreement at issue was an unreasonable restraint on competition under section 1. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings on the merits of NASL's claims. View "North American Soccer League, LLC v. United States Soccer Federation, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this copyright infringement suit, plaintiffs challenged the district court's determination that defendants’ verbatim use of a portion of Abbott and Costello’s iconic comedy routine, "Who’s on First?," in the recent Broadway play "Hand to God," qualified as a non‐infringing fair use. The court concluded that defendants’ entitlement to a fair use defense was not so clearly established on the face of the amended complaint and its incorporated exhibits as to support dismissal. In this case, defendants' verbatim use of the routine was not transformative, defendants failed persuasively to justify their use of the routine, defendants' use of some dozen of the routine’s variations of “who’s on first” was excessive in relation to any dramatic purpose, and plaintiffs alleged an active secondary market for the work, which was not considered by the district court. The court concluded, however, that the dismissal is warranted because plaintiffs failed to plausibly plead ownership of a valid copyright. The court found plaintiffs' efforts to do so on theories of assignment, work‐for‐hire, and merger all fail as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "TCA Television Corp. v. McCollum" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a composer and music producer, filed a copyright suit against Sony, Razor Sharp Records, and Dennis Coles, a/k/a Ghostface Killah, to enforce plaintiff's claimed ownership rights in the "Iron Man" theme song. The district court determined that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that Marvel was, in fact, the copyright owner. Therefore, the district court dismissed plaintiff's New York common law claims for copyright infringement, unfair competition, and misappropriation on the basis that those claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq. The court held that, although the district court properly determined that defendants had standing to raise a “work for hire” defense to plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim, the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff failed to raise issues of material fact with respect to his ownership of the copyright; the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s state law claims as preempted by the Copyright Act; the court vacated the district court’s summary judgment ruling with respect to plaintiff’s Copyright Act claim and remanded for further proceedings; and the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's state law claims. View "Urbont v. Sony Music Entm't" on Justia Law

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(c), establishes a safe harbor which gives qualifying Internet service providers protection from liability for copyright infringement when their users upload infringing material on the service provider’s site and the service provider is unaware of the infringement. Plaintiffs filed suit against Vimeo alleging that Vimeo is liable for copyright infringement by reason of 199 videos posted on the Vimeo website, which contained allegedly infringing musical recordings for which plaintiffs owned the rights. In this interlocutory appeal on certified questions from rulings of the district court interpreting the DMCA, the court concluded that the safe harbor of section 512(c) does apply to pre-1972 sound recordings, and therefore protects service providers against liability for copyright infringement under state law with respect to pre-1972 sound recordings, as well as under the federal copyright law for post-1972 recordings. Therefore, the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs with respect to Vimeo’s entitlement to the safe harbor for infringements of pre-1972 recordings is vacated. The court also concluded that various factual issues that arise in connection with a service provider’s claim of the safe harbor are subject to shifting burdens of proof. Because, on a defendant’s claim of the safe harbor, the burden of showing facts supporting a finding of red flag knowledge shifts to the plaintiff, and the district court appears to have denied Vimeo’s motion for summary judgment as to a number of videos on this issue based on a test that would improperly deny service providers access to the safe harbor, the court vacated the denial of Vimeo’s motion for summary judgment on that issue. The court remanded for reconsideration and further proceedings. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that the district court erred in its ruling in Vimeo’s favor as to plaintiffs’ reliance on the doctrine of willful blindness. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo, LLC" on Justia Law

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The NFL suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games because of his involvement in a scheme to deflate footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game. After Brady requested arbitration, League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who served as arbitrator, entered an award confirming the discipline. The district court vacated the award based on the reasoning that Brady lacked notice that his conduct was prohibited and punishable by suspension, and that the manner in which the proceedings were conducted deprived him of fundamental fairness. The court concluded that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player. In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitration challenging his discipline. In this case, the court concluded that Brady received adequate notice that deflation of footballs could lead to suspension, the Commissioner's decision to exclude testimony from NFL General Counsel fits within his broad discretion to admit or exclude evidence and raises no questions of fundamental fairness, and there is no fundamental unfairness in the Commissioner's denial of notes and memoranda generated by the investigative team where the collective bargaining agreement does not require the exchange of such notes. The court concluded that the Association's remaining claims are without merit. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded. View "NFL Mgmt. Council v. NFL Players Ass'n" on Justia Law