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.

Welch Foods, Inc. v. Healthy Food Brands LLC (119-cv-12556).

Welch Foods, a cooperative corporation owned by more than 750 farmer families, filed suit against its former licensee Healthy Food Brands (“HFB”), accusing it of violating its contract with Welch and of trademark infringement in connection with HFB’s continued marketing and sale of licensed products post-termination. Welch owns a number of federal trademark registrations to marks that include the term “WELCH’S” for a variety of food products and services. In 2014, Welch and HFB entered into a license agreement under which HFB would develop, manufacture and sell products such as dried and freeze-dried fruits and trail mixes under the WELCH’S BRAND. The license granted exclusivity in this area. The agreement provided for the payment of royalties based on sales, with certain minimum royalties established, and also sets forth reporting requirements on HFB sales. Welch asserts that HFB has missed a number of royalty payments and has never provided the required sales information, with the purpose of hiding the actual level of sales. After providing written notice of these breaches and allowing the passage of the required time to cure, Welch terminated the agreement in June, 2019. While the agreement requires the return or destruction of all WELCH’S-branded products upon termination, Welch asserts that HFB has instead continued to sell these products. Welch asserts breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing that is inherently applied to Massachusetts contracts, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, trademark infringement, false association, unfair competition and dilution under the Lanham Act, and violation of Mass. G.L. c. 93A. Judge Stearns has been assigned the case.

Singular Computing LLC v. Google LLC (19-cv-12551).

Singular Computing, founded by Dr. Joseph Bates, designs and develops computers having new architectures that permit greater usage of the computing potential of a given system. This system utilizes “massively parallel processing” to achieve the improved results. After filing a provisional patent application on this technology, Dr. Bates met with Google representatives under a non-disclosure agreement to discuss Google utilizing such a system to support its developments in AI-related applications. Singular asserts that Google nevertheless copied Dr. Bates’ architecture and utilized it in Google’s Cloud Tensor Processing Unit Versions 2 and 3, and that the Google system infringes Singular’s 8,407,273, 9,218,156 and 10,416,961 patents. Singular suggests that, absent the infringement, Google would have been required to at least double the number of data centers it constructed, at an additional cost of at least $10 billion. Singular further asserts that the infringement was willful, at least with respect to the earlier two patents. The case is with Judge Saylor.

Sensitech, Inc. v. Grupo OFAS, SA de CV et al. (19-cv-12554).

Sensitech, a maker of monitoring devices for monitoring and maintaining manufacturing and storage conditions, sued its former Mexican distributor Grupo, accusing Grupo OFAS of trademark infringement and breach of contract. The agreement by which OFAS would distribute certain Sensitech products in Mexico terminated on November 30, 2015; at that point, OFAS was obliged to return all Sensitech IP and make all payments due. Sensitech asserts that OFAS never made the required payments and continues to use Sensitech trademarks and hold itself out as a licensed Sensitech distributor, and was using shell companies to try to obtain additional Sensitech products. Sensitech alleges a 93A violation in addition to the Lanham Act and contract causes of action. The case is before Judge Burroughs.

Trustees of Boston University v. Kingbright Electric Co., Ltd. et al. (13-cv-12335).

In a different part of Boston University’s series of patent infringement suits against LED manufacturers, now consolidated, Judge Saris granted in part and denied in part Kingbright’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Kingbright case was stayed pending the resolution of earlier such cases, and following the invalidation of claim 19 for lack of enablement, Kingbright filed its motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Kingbright, which sells LED packages that utilize LED’s manufactured by Epistar, Cree, and Tekcore, sought judgment no the pleadings as to the products that incorporated Epistar’s LED chips under the Kessler doctrine. This doctrine bars infringement actions against a customer of a seller who had prevailed in an infringement suit because of invalidity or noninfringement. As Epistar was one of the parties that prevailed in the lack of enablement finding, and because in any event claim preclusion would prohibit B.U. from bringing infringement claims based on different claims against Epistar (who had indemnified Kingbright), Judge Saris granted the motion with respect to these products. She denied the motion with respect to the products incorporating Cree and Tekcore chips, as neither the Kessler Doctrine nor claim preclusion would apply.

Trustees of Boston University v. Everlight Electronics Co., Ltd. et al. (13-cv-12335).

This patent litigation resulted in the overturning of a jury verdict of infringement and invalidation of the sole asserted claim as not enabled. The claim , which covered semiconductors used in LED’s, recited a substrate consisting of a material selected from a group of six different compositions, with a non-single crystalline buffer layer grown thereon and a growth layer grown on the buffer layer. The term “non-single crystalline buffer layer” was construed to cover polycrystalline, amorphous, or mixed polycrystalline and amorphous materials, and the Federal Circuit determined that the specification did not enable growing a growth layer on an amorphous layer. In June, on return to the District Court, Judge Saris allowed in part Defendants’ request for attorneys’ fees, finding that, while the case itself was not exceptional (while Boston University ultimately did not prevail, their argument initially prevailed at trial and in post-trial briefing at the District Court level, demonstrating that it was not without merit), the conduct of Boston University’s counsel in communications with Defendants’ counsel “crossed the line of civility” and found that Defendants should recover the fees and costs associated with the two contempt motions they brought after Boston University’s counsel continued with the objectionable communications in violation of court orders. Judge Saris has now awarded $30,934 in fees, excluding time entries that did not relate or only partially related to the motions for contempt. She denied Defendants’ request for fees associated with briefing and arguing the fee request, however, finding her earlier fee award covered only the contempt motions and not the subsequent fee motion.