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James is a shareholder in Weintraub Tobin’s litigation section.  He represents corporate and individual clients in both state and federal courts in various business litigation matters, including trade secret misappropriation, unfair business competition, stockholder disputes, and intellectual property disputes.

Imagine litigating an infringement case for two years, and after a nine day jury trial, obtaining a jury’s verdict that says you’ve established infringement and awards your client $5,000,000.  Then you realize that the jury has awarded your client $0 in actual damages, and the entire $5,000,000 sum is for punitive damages.  The Ninth Circuit in an unpublished opinion in Monster Energy Company v. Integrated Supply Network, LLC (July 22, 2020), reiterated that a party is not entitled to punitive damages without a finding of actual damages.

Monster Energy Company is a well-known energy drink giant that does a lot of sponsorship in the motorsports area with its distinctive green M logo.  In 2017, it sued Integrated Supply Network for infringement of its Monster marks.  Integrated Supply is a Florida automotive-supply company that sold various Monster Mobile and ISN Monster lines of goods that Monster Energy Company claimed infringed on its marks.
Continue Reading You Must Prove Actual Damages if You Want Punitive Damages in an Infringement Action

Unicolors, Inc. creates and markets artistic design fabrics to various garment manufacturers.  Some of these designs are marketed to the public and placed in its showroom while other designs are considered “confined” works that Unicolor sells to certain customers. Unicolors withholds marketing them to the general public for a set period of time. In order to save money, Unicolors often times groups various designs into a “single work” when filing with the U.S. Copyright office for copyright registration.  The Ninth Circuit in Unicolors v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz (May 29, 2020), recently addressed whether this practice, grouping both public and “confined” works into a single registration application, creates a valid copyright that Unicolors could enforce.
Continue Reading “Birds of a Feather” – The Ninth Circuit Confronts “Single Unit of Publication” Copyright Issue

(This article was republished with permission by ABA Business Law Today on 6/2/2020, available here.)

Certain literary or graphic characters may, in some cases, enjoy copyright protection. Think James Bond – or Batman and even his Batmobile.  Recently, the Ninth Circuit was called upon to determine whether the Moodsters, “anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions,” are subject to the same copyright protection as Batman.  Sadly, the Ninth Circuit concluded they do not.

The Moodsters were created by an expert on children’s emotional intelligence and development, Denise Daniels. She created the Moodsters to “help children cope with strong emotions like loss and trauma.”  In 2005, Ms. Daniels and her team released an initial product called The Moodsters Bible.  The Moodsters Bible told the story of five characters who were “color-coded anthropomorphic emotions” that represented a different emotion: pink–love, yellow-happiness, blue-sadness, red-anger and green-fear. Two years later, Ms. Daniels and her team released a 30-minute television pilot featuring the Moodsters called, “The Amoodsment Mixup.”  In 2015, Ms. Daniels and her team had developed a line of toys and books featuring the Moodsters that were sold at Target and other retailers.
Continue Reading Inside Out: The Ninth Circuit Holds The Moodsters are No Batman

Burbank High School runs a music program that reportedly provided the inspiration for the hit TV show, Glee. It is nationally known for the competitive show choirs its students participate in as part of the program. To defray the costs of fielding several choirs, a non-profit booster club was formed to help fundraise for the music education program. The booster club puts on a couple of annual fundraising shows, Burbank Blast and Pop, which include both the Burbank High School choirs as well as a number of other competitive choirs. The choirs’ music director serves as the liaison between the school’s choirs and the booster club.

The music director hired an arranger to create custom sheet music for two shows to be performed at the fundraisers: Rainmaker and 80’s Movie Montage. In creating these performances, the arranger used snippets from the following songs: Magic (originally performed by Olivia Newton John) and (I’ve Had the) Time of My Life (by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes) as well as Hotel California and Don’t Phunk with my Heart. After several performances, Tresona Multimedia, LLC, sued the music director, the booster club and parent-members of the booster club for copyright infringement. Tresona Multimedia alleged that it owned the copyrights to the above songs and that its copyright interests were infringed upon because no licenses were obtained to allow the use of the above songs in the performances.
Continue Reading Burbank High School Jumps with Glee over Copyright Victory

Is the privately-owned YouTube site really a “state actor” subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment? That’s the claim made in a lawsuit by Prager University, which is not really a university. The Ninth Circuit was recently called upon to address PragerU’s claim that the widely popular internet site operated by a private entity should be treated as a “state actor” subject to the First Amendment.  Unsurprisingly, the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed well-established case authority to hold that the First Amendment’s protections apply only as to protect against governmental action, not to private companies such as YouTube.

PragerU claims that its mission is purportedly “to ‘provide conservative view points and perspective on public issues that it believes are often overlooked.’”  PragerU creates videos that target younger audiences and has posted hundreds of videos on YouTube.
Continue Reading YouTube and the First Amendment