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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.

This column previously addressed the case of Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., when it was decided by the Ninth Circuit about two years ago. Unicolors is the owner of copyrights in various fabric designs, including a 2011 copyright registration that consisted of 31 separate designs. Unicolors sued H&M for copyright infringement when H&M stores began selling a jacket and skirt that contained artwork that Unicolors claimed to be identical to one of the designs in its 2011 registration. The jury found in Unicolors favor and H&M moved the court for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial court denied. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the district court and ruled that because Unicolors had made a mistake of law in connection with the registration (i.e. it registered it as a single publication when some of the designs were apparently not put on sale to the public all at once), the registration should have been found to be invalid. Unicolors appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case last November.
Continue Reading Is that Bird A Cardinal or a Scarlet Tanager? Who Cares. The U.S. Supreme Court Weighs in on Copyright Infringement and the Issue of Mistake

Greg Kihn is a musician best known for his 1983 hit song, “Jeopardy.” In 2017, he (and his publishing company) filed suit against Bill Graham Archives, LLC, which did business as Wolfgang’s Vault. Wolfgang’s Vault is a website where visitors could, for a fee, access thousands of live musical performances from the 1950s to the 1990s. Mr. Kihn’s complaint alleged violations of federal copyright and anti-bootlegging laws. He sought to bring these claims of a class of other performers similarly situated.
Continue Reading Copyright Infringement and Class Certification Issues

The Ninth Circuit was recently asked to determine whether to continue to apply the Circuit’s two-part extrinsic/intrinsic test for “substantial similarity” with regard to a copyright infringement claim or to depart from this approach and apply the Second Circuit’s “ordinary observer” test instead. In Johannsongs-Publishing, Ltd. v. Lovland, an unpublished opinion issued on November 29, 2021, the Ninth Circuit declined to depart from its precedence and affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants who were accused of copyright infringement in connection with the song You Raise Me Up.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Refuses to Adopt “Ordinary Observer” Test for Substantial Similarity and Copyright Infringement

In a recent case, Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC, decided September 9, 2021, the Ninth Circuit clarified the role that the de minimis concept plays in copyright infringement cases.  In essence, the Ninth Circuit explained that de minimis goes to the amount of copying of a copyrighted work as opposed to any de minimis use or display of any such a work.
Continue Reading The De Minimis Concept in Copyright Cases – The Ninth Circuit Says What it is and What it Isn’t

Calling it a “ball of confusion,” the Ninth Circuit recently considered a case involving the music of the Turtles, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and whether royalties are owed under California copyright law for music dating prior to 1972. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit reviewed nearly 200 years of copyright law to reach its conclusion.

In a lawsuit that was originally filed in 2013 titled, Flo & Eddie, Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., the Ninth Circuit confronted the issue of “whether digital and satellite radio stations have a duty to pay public performance royalties for pre-1972 songs under [California] copyright law.” The crux of the case turned on the meaning of the phrase, “exclusive ownership,” which the California legislature used in California’s copyright statute in 1872.
Continue Reading “Happy Together” – The Ninth Circuit Plays the Golden Oldies of Copyright Law