Comerica Bank & Trust, NA as Personal Representative of the Estate of Prince Rogers Nelson et al v. Habib (17-cv-12418).

Comerica Bank, on behalf of the estate of musician Prince, filed suit against Kian Andrew Habib after Habib posted footage he had filmed of two Prince concerts to Habib’s “PersianCeltic” YouTube page. Comerica operates an official Prince YouTube channel, and utilizes MarkMonitor to actively monitors the internet for potential infringements. When Comerica discovered the Habib videos, which included portions of five different Prince-written songs, it sent takedown notices to YouTube, which removed the videos. Habib filed counter-notifications, asserting that his videos constituted “fair use,” and Comerica filed suit, asserting copyright infringement and violation of the civil anti-bootlegging statute, 17 U.S.C. §1101. Habib in turn asserted that the takedown notices were “knowingly, material misprepresent[ations]” in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 512(f). The parties each moved for summary judgment.

Judge Sorokin granted Comerica summary judgment on the copyright claim, rejecting Habib’s argument that Prince’s copyright did not extend to live performances. Judge Sorokin disagreed, noting that in addition to the copyright in the sound recording, which covers the studio recordings, Prince had copyright in the musical compositions themselves. He further noted that courts have consistently held that live performances that differ somewhat in lyrics, temp, or arrangement are still protected by the copyright in the musical composition. Judge Sorokin rejected Habib’s fair use defense, finding that Habib’s videos had no educational or historic, and were essentially verbatim copying that was not transformative. He further noted that, while Habib had not monetized his YouTube account, lack of monetization does not affect liability, and that Habib’s use of the videos to drive traffic to his channel provides sufficient benefit to weigh against a finding of fair use. Judge Sorokin agreed that Comerica would lose revenue when someone viewed the Prince videos on Habib’s site, as well as lose control over the ability to preserve the reputation for excellence that Prince himself had established in strictly controlling his output. Judge Sorokin further granted Comerica summary judgment that the infringement was willful, finding that Habib’s continued posting of concert videos (of Prince and others) despite receiving multiple takedown notices demonstrated an unreasonable disregard for the rights of the performers, and his custom of filing counter-notifications parroting the statutory fair use factors without factual basis likewise is unreasonable.

Judge Sorokin further found in Comerica’s favor on the elements of the anti-bootlegging statute. This statute protects performances that are not themselves “fixed” in a tangible medium and thus entitled to copyright protection. He rejected Habib’s sole defense of implied license, which Habib asserted from a 2014 BBC interview in which Prince stated “[n]obody sues their fans… fans sharing music with each other, that’s cool.” Judge Sorokin agreed with Comerica that such a broad statement to the general public does not set out any license terms, does not demonstrate an intent to contract with Habib and has no relation to Habib himself, and thus did not create an implied license. While Judge Sorokin agreed that the elements of the statute were met, he withheld summary judgment to allow further briefing on whether the protections under the statute are inheritable such that Comerica has standing, an issue not yet addressed by the courts.

Judge Sorokin denied Habib’s request for summary judgment on his assertion that the takedown notices contained material misrepresentations, noting that MarkMonitor had, on Comerica’s behalf, had established at least a good faith belief that the Habib videos were infringing, including performing a fair use analysis, before the notices were sent. Finally, Judge Sorokin granted Comerica’s request for a permanent injunction prohibiting the posting of any videos of Prince performances.

Congratulations to Craig Smith and Eric Carnevale of my firm, Lando &Anastasi, who represent Comerica in this case!

Sound United, LLC d/b/a Definitive Technology v. Amazon.com seller audio video sales guy (19-cv-12541).

In December, home theater maker Sound United sued Amazon sellers Amazing Deals Online, and a third, unknown seller identified as “Amazon.com seller audio video sales guy” (“AVSG”), accusing each of infringing Sound United trademarks for such products, including DENON, POLK AUDIO, MARANTZ, DEFINITIVE TECHNOLOGY, HEOS, BOSTON ACOUSTICS, and CLASSE while not being authorized resellers of such products. The resellers are further accused of suggesting that a manufacturer’s warranty. Sound United does not assert that the marks are being placed on non-Sound United products; instead, Sound United asserts that the defendants obtained Sound United product from authorized resellers in knowing violation of the resellers’ agreements with Sound United. Sound United asserted trademark infringement, tortious interference with contractual relations, and violation of Ch. 93A.

Sound United, having been unable to find a physical mailing address or business location for the unknown seller AVSG, sought permission to serve that entity using its Amazon.com electronic mail service. Magistrate Judge Cabell granted the motion, noting that under Massachusetts law, when a process servers reports back that after a diligent search he or she cannot find the defendant, the defendant’s last and usual address, or an agent upon whom process may be served, the court may issue an order of notice. He determined that, under the circumstances, service via Amazon was reasonably calculated to prove requisite notice.

MedIdea, LLC v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc. (17-cv-11172).

MedIdea accused DePuy of infringing four patents related to knee replacements in Illinois, with the case transferred to Massachusetts in light of the TC Heartland decision. MedIdea conceded non-infringement on all but one claim following claim construction. In November, Judge Sorokin granted DePuy summary judgment of non-infringement on the sole remaining claim, finding that the claims as construed required multiple cam surfaces that were absent in the accused knee prosthetics. Judge Sorokin further construed the claim over MedIdea’s objection, finding that MedIdea’s post-construction amended contentions created issues that required further construction of the claim, and that in any event if the infringement issue related to a claim construction issue that the court had not yet resolved, the court was duty-bound to construe the term. He then determined that, while the claim itself did not so require, the intrinsic evidence taken as a whole required the claimed “points of cam action” to mean “convex surfaces,” in part because every embodiment of the specification showed convex cam surfaces. He acknowledged that this, standing alone, is not sufficient to so limit the claims, but found this fact to still have a bearing on the construction of the term, and that, combined with statements made by MedIdea in both the prosecution of the patents and in their initial complaint and contentions filed in the litigation (and since abandoned for MedIdea’s current theory of infringement), the claims should be so construed. In particular, in an IPR proceeding on the patents-in-suit. MedIdea characterized the “disclosed and claimed invention” as having points of cam action with convex surfaces – the use of “disclosed and claimed invention” estopped any argument that MedIdea was discussing only non-limiting examples. Notably, Judge Sorokin did not place any estoppel on DePuy based on their statements made in the IPR, because as the non-patentee, their statements did not become a part of the prosecution history of the patents and because their positions were not adopted by the Board and thus did not create a judicial estoppel situation.

MedIdea conceded that, under this claim construction, the accused prosthesis lacks multiple convex cam surfaces and thus does not infringe, resulting in summary judgment in favor of DePuy. Judge Sorokin subsequently entered final judgment of non-infringement and dismissed DePuy’s counterclaims without prejudice.

Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Arvidson d/b/a Turbo Lube & Repairs (19-cv-12226).

Exxon Mobile filed suit against Ayer, Massachusetts business Turbo Lube, accusing the repair shop of trademark infringement, dilution, counterfeiting, unfair competition and unjust enrichment. Exxon Mobile asserts a number of trademarks, including the “MOBILE” mark in red and blue, the red Pegasus mark, and “Mobile 1 Lube Express.” Exxon Mobile accuses Turbo Lube of misusing these marks in its on-site advertising, website, and even on the employees’ uniforms, and of ignoring Exxon Mobile’s cease and desist demand letter. Exxon Mobile seeks a finding of willful infringement, and seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.

Foss v. Spencer Brewery (19-cv-40098).

Cynthia Foss, a graphic designer who has filed a number of pro se copyright suits in Massachusetts, filed suit against Spencer Brewery in July a day after filing a demand for arbitration on the same claims, and subsequently moved to compel arbitration. Judge Hollman denied Foss’ motion, finding her voluntary filing of suits in Federal Court to constitute a waiver of any arbitration rights she might have had. Judge Hillman noted that Foss had filed two civil actions against Spencer Brewery, had litigated for more than a year without seeking to require arbitration, and had had judgment entered against her in both litigations before filing the demand for arbitration – Judge Hillman granted both a motion to dismiss and a motion for judgment on the pleadings after Foss failed to oppose either, apparently thinking that Spencer Brewery still needed to, and failed to, answer the two complaints.

Broadcast Music, Inc. et al. v. 11 Exchange Street LLC d/b/a The Steel Pub et al. (19-cv-40136).

Music licensing giant BMI asserts that The Steel Pub of Athol, Massachusetts allows musical compositions to be performed without paying the appropriate licensing fees. BMI claims to have contacted the pub more than twenty times over the past three years, and asserts that the infringement was therefor willful.

Bassett v. Jensen et al. (18-cv-10576).

Judge Saris denied Bassett’s motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent the release of the accused films. The case was brought by Leah Bassett, a Martha’s Vineyard artist who rented her home to the defendants, who used the home as the setting for pornographic films. Bassett asserted copyright infringement, base don her original artworks in the house being displayed in the films. She filed suit nearly three years after discovering that the defendants were filming at her house, and first sought preliminary injunctive relief nearly eighteen months after filing suit. Judge Saris determined that Bassett could not make the requisite element of irreparable harm. She cited several reasons – Bassett had disavowed claims for actual damages and sought only statutory damages; all of the copyrighted articles were personal belongings not for sale, eliminating many of the categories of irreparable harm (reputational harm, tarnishment, dilution) that might exist for items that were the subject of commerce; the minimal use of the copyrighted material in the films; and Bassett’s delays in filing suit and then seeking the injunction, which undercuts the notion of irreparable harm. Judge Saris further noted that the Defendants had agreed to voluntarily remove all the films and photographs shot in Bassett’s home from distribution, leaving only bootleg copies that an injunction would not address in distribution.