Epstein v. Miller Brothers Furniture Inc. (19-cv-30082).

John Epstein again sued Miller Brothers Furniture for copyright infringement related to the unauthorized use of promotional material he created for the company. Epstein had filed suit in April, alleging breach of contract in addition to copyright infringement, and Miller Brothers counterclaimed with interference with advantageous business relations and unfair competition claims. Epstein sought to add a second registration by amended complaint, but subsequently withdrew the amended complaint because the second registration had not issued prior to the initial filing of the complaint. This new complaint alleges infringement of both the new registration and the registration that was asserted in the original complaint, meaning the first registration is being asserted in both cases (although joinder of the two cases would resolve that issue). As with the initial case, this case is before Judge Mastroianni.

Minden Pictures, Inc. v. Kate-Den, Inc. (19-cv-11216).

Minden Pictures accuses Lynn company Kate-Den, which does business as “Dennis the Mennis Pest Control,” of willful copyright infringement and violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Minden asserts itself to be the premier provider of rights-managed wildlife and nature stock photographs, including photos taken by Michael Durham. Minden says that Kate-Den uses Durham photographs on its website, removed the copyright management information associated with the photographs, and have failed to respond to cease and desist letters from Minden. The case is before Judge Zobel.

Getty Images (US), Inc. v. Her Campus Media, LLC (19-cv-11084).

On-line image licensing company Getty Images accuses Her Campus Media of widespread copyright infringement for accepting and publishing articles containing unlicensed images controlled by Getty. Her Campus Media, an often-accused business that solicits college women to submit articles for publication, is said to have wrongfully used thousands of Getty images over the last two years alone, many taken by professional photographers with expensive and difficult to obtain access to events like the Grammys and MTV Music Video Awards. Getty seeks the greater of actual and statutory damages and a finding of willful infringement. The case is before Judge Sorokin.

Epstein v. Miller Brothers Furniture, Inc. (19-cv-30055).

John Epstein, who engages in advertising for retail furniture stores as Direct Results, sued Miller Furniture Brothers, a Pennsylvania company with a store in Punxsutawney (home of Punxsutawney Phil from Groundhog Day!), accusing them of breach of contract and copyright infringement. Epstein alleges that Miller Brothers contracted with him to create promotional material in 2010, which Miller Brothers could not use without his permission. He says that Miller Brothers used this material without authorization in 2011 and 2012; Epstein objected, and Miller Brothers ultimately compensated him for this use. Epstein alleges that Miller Brothers again improperly utilized this copyrighted promotional material last year. Oddly, the complaint alleges subject matter jurisdiction solely under 28 U.S.C. 1331 and 1338 (federal question and patents/plant variety protection/copyrights/mask works/designs/trademarks/unfair competition) and then seeks joinder of the copyright and breach of contract claims, rather than asserting diversity or supplemental jurisdiction.

Photographic Illustrators Corp. v. Orgill, Inc. et al. (14-cv-11818).

Photographic Illustrators, a company working in commercial photography, accused Orgill of infringing a number of Photographic Illustrators’ copyrights in photographs of Osram Sylvania lighting products. Orsram has a license to the photographs; PI asserts that Orgill, an Osram distributor, is not covered by that license. Orgill was granted summary judgment on PI’s DMCA and Lanham Act claims in 2015, but Orgill’s motion with respect to the copyright infringement claim was denied. Following an arbitration involving PI and Osram, Orgill again moved for summary judgment on the copyright claim, asserting that they were sublicensed under the Osram license and that that arbitration award precludes the copyright claim. PI cross-moved for summary judgment that there was no sublicense or that Orgill’s use fell outside of the purported sublicense.

Orgill asserted that it had impliedly been sublicensed by Osram, which was confirmed in a nunc pro tunc 2014 sublicense. In her 2015 decision, Judge Saris found that PI had provided sufficient evidence that Orgill had sublicensed the photographs to Orgill’s dealers for a fee, which was not permitted under PI’s license with Osram, and without the attribution required by the PI/Osram agreement. Subsequently, the arbitrator found that the no-fee provision and the attribution provision were merely covenants enforceable via contract law, rather than conditions on Osram’s license.

In her decision of last week, Judge Saris determined that Osram had granted Orgill an unwritten sublicense, through its course of conduct in giving Orgill images to promote Osram products since 1998 and in never objecting to Orgill’s use of the images. She further found that an implied sublicense could legally be granted. PI had asserted that an implied copyright license could not be granted by a licensee to a sublicensee who has no direct contact with the copyright holder; looking to the totality of the circumstances to determine that the parties intended Orgill to be licensed, specifically that PI intended to permit Osram to sublicense the photographs and that Osram intended that Orgill be licensed to use the images. The arbitration decision effectively precluded PI from arguing that Orgill exceeded the scope of this implied sublicense, because the relevant terms of PI’s license with Osram did not condition sublicenses Osram could make. She further found that the confirmatory sublicense, which included language requiring attribution where feasible, but further stated that this requirement was “[w]ithout effect on the rights of Orgill… to Use the Images as granted…” This quoted language meant that the attribution requirement was not a condition which must be met to form the sublicense, but again merely a contractual obligation. Accordingly, use by Orgill of photographs lacking attribution cannot be the basis for the copyright infringement claim.

Judge Saris further addressed PI’s argument that it had not licensed “approval” images to Osram, such that Orgill could not have been sublicensed with respect to those images. These “approval” images were rough photographs sent to Osram for approval before being retouched and refined into he final photographs by PI. While the issue of whether these images were licensed was not affirmatively determined by the arbitrator, Judge Saris determined that PI had not disclosed this infringement theory during discovery, and precluded PI from pursuing this theory under FRCP 37(c)(1). Accordingly, she granted Orgill’s motion for summary judgment.

Bravado International Group Merchandising Services, Inc. v. Does et al. (19-cv-10455).

Bravado is a merchandising company that has exclusive rights to sell products bearing the federally registered ARIANNA GRANDE mark, a logo for which registration is pending, and/or Grande’s name and likeness.  Bravado brought this suit in advance of Grande’s upcoming performance at the TD Garden in Boston to prevent bootleggers from offering infringing merchandise in or around the arena, and to obtain an order for authorities to seize and impound any such merchandise. As with other such pre-emptive suits, Judge Zobel is assigned to this matter.

Channing Bete Co., Inc. v. Breenberg (29-cv-30032).

Channing Bete filed suit against Dr. Mark Greenberg for trademark infringement, tortious interference with business relations, and violations of non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. Dr. Greenberg jointly developed a curriculum for the social and emotional development of children, known as the “PATHS® Program,” in 1993. This curriculum was exclusively licensed to Channing Bete predecessor Developmental Research Programs, Inc., who registered the PATHS® trademark in 1995. Dr. Greenberg continued to develop the program, resulting in a “PATHS® Preschool/Kindergarten Program,” and jointly registered copyright in these developments. Channing Bete obtained exclusive rights to this program as well, and has since worked with Dr. Greenberg and the other authors to develop additional program-based materials to cover elementary-school children. Channing Bete partnered with a training organization run by Dr. Greenberg, “PATHS® Education Worldwide (PEW), to train purchasers of the PATHS® programs, and licensed PEW certain rights in the programs.

In the summer of 2014, Channing Bete decided to sell its rights in the PATHS® programs. They allege that Dr. Greenberg immediately began to interfere with its efforts to sell. According to the complaint, this interference led to the major large publishers refusing to consider a purchase. Channing Bete subsequently put the program out for bid, requiring non-disclosure agreements from any bidder. PEW placed a bid and executed an NDA, as did Dr. Greenberg personally. Channing Bete subsequently notified Dr. Greenberg that they had selected a different buyer, who would need to coordinate with Dr. Greenberg and the other authors. Dr. Greenberg was reminded of his non-disclosure obligations in this communication. The complaint alleges that Dr. Greenberg threatened to withhold assent to the transfer of the curriculum unless he received concessions for himself and PEW. It further alleges that Dr. Greenberg directly contacted the buyer on multiple occasions, indicating again that he intended to block the sale unless he received concessions and revealing the contents of his communications with Channing Bete, in violation of the NDA he had signed. Channing Bete then received an offer from a different party, seeking to buy the curriculum at the same terms offered by PEW. Channing Bete subsequently received communications from other authors of curriculum materials, each threatening to withhold consent to the sale, that Channing Bete alleges to have been orchestrated by Dr. Greenberg. Finally, Dr. Greenberg has published books laying out “PATHS Plus” that he has marketed as an alternative to the PATHS® program, allegedly in violation of non-compete language contained in his original exclusive license to Channing Bete.