MVS Filewrapper® Blog: Supreme Court Determines Internet Service Violates Copyrights

The Supreme Court has issued its much anticipated decision in American Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.  The Court held that an internet service provided by Aereo—which allows subscribes to watch television programs over the internet contemporaneous with the programs as they are broadcasted over the air—violates of a copyright owner's exclusive right to perform a work publicly under the 1976 Copyright Act.  This decision represents an interesting historical development in copyright law. 

 

Amendment of the Copyright Act in 1976 was motivated, at least in part, in response to previous court decisions relating to systems very similar to the one at issue in Aereo. Specifically, in the 1968 case Fortnight Corp. v. United Artists Television and in the 1974 case Teleprompter Corp. v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. the Supreme Court held operations such as reception and rechanneling of broadcast TV signals for simultaneous viewing to be "viewer functions," and not within the purview of the public performance right.  The 1976 Copyright Act subsequently clarified that to "'perform' an audiovisual work means 'to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.'" Thus, under the 1976 Copyright Act, services that allow subscribers to view television shows contemporaneous or nearly contemporaneous with the broadcasting constitute a performance. 

 

Aereo argued that rather than performing the work in violation of the Copyright Act, it is merely an "equipment provider." The Supreme Court did acknowledge a technological difference between Aereo's services and the services at issue in Fortnight Corp. and Teleprompter—Aereo's service is "inert" until a subscriber chooses a program, whereas with the cable systems in Fortnight Corp. and Teleprompter transmitted constantly.  However, the Court was not persuaded that this difference mattered, and notably also found Aereo subscribers to constitute "the public" under the Act.

 

Also notable was the statement by the Court, in the body of the decision, that it does not believe this decision will discourage the emergence or use of different technologies. This seems to signal the Court's understanding that as technology continues to advance, while the Copyright Act remains the same, it will be increasingly important for courts to ensure that the Act does not tread on innovation and artistic creation, but rather to promote their progress as required by Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution. 

 

The full opinion is available here.

MVS Filewrapper® Blog: 2014 Supreme Court Cases Relating to Intellectual Property

On January 10, 2014 the Supreme Court agreed to review a variety of intellectual property cases in the upcoming session, including two patent cases, a copyright case, and a trademark case (including Lanham Act claim).  A brief overview of these cases is provided and more detail will be available once decisions are entered by the Court.

Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. (U.S., No. 12-786.)

Question Presented to the Supreme Court: Whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that a defendant may be held liable for inducing patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) even though no one has committed direct infringement under § 271(a).

The Federal Circuit dismissed the “single-entity” rule for finding induced infringement of a method/process claim, finding that steps taken by multiple parties can result in induced infringement. The Federal Circuit stated, “To be clear, we hold that all the steps of a claimed method must be performed in order to find induced infringement, but that it is not necessary to prove that all the steps were committed by a single entity.” If the Supreme Court upholds the Federal Circuit’s ruling, a patentee has increased opportunity to assert induced infringement for method/process claims in the marketplace.

Nautilus, Inc., v. Biosig Instruments, Inc. (U.S., No. 13-369)

Question Presented to the Supreme Court: Does the Federal Circuit’s acceptance of ambiguous patent claims with multiple reasonable interpretations—so long as the ambiguity is not “insoluble” by a court—defeat the statutory requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming? Does the presumption of validity dilute the requirement of particular and distinct patent claiming?

The Federal Circuit reversed a district court decision that a patent claim to a heart rate monitor was invalid for indefiniteness as a matter of law because of its use of the claim term “spaced relationship” in describing the positioning of two electrodes with respect to each other. The Court held that this claim term was not one that is “insolubly ambiguous” when the intrinsic evidence is considered from the perspective of a person of skill in the art. It considered the functionality of the claimed monitor, as described in the specification, as did the USPTO when the claim was under reexamination. “[T]he claims provide inherent parameters sufficient for a skilled artisan to understand the bounds of ‘spaced relationship.’” Judge Schall concurred in the result but would have used a more narrow analysis, explaining that he would not have used the functional limitation to address the definiteness issue.

 

POM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca-Cola Company, U.S. (No. 12-761)

Question Presented to the Supreme Court: Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a private party cannot bring a Lanham Act claim challenging a product label regulated under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The case arising out of the 9th Circuit resulted in affirming judgment in favor of Coca-Cola, finding that POM's Lanham Act challenge to Coca-Cola’s “Pomegranate Blueberry” name was barred under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  Applicability of Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a) (authorizing actions of false/misleading description of goods), The FDCA and/or state law claims will be addressed.

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. (U.S., No. 13-461)

Question Presented to the Supreme Court: Does a company “publicly perform” a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet?

The Second Circuit denied reviewal of a panel decision that online streaming of TV programs to individual subscribers is not an infringing public performance. The panel found that the creation of a copy of a broadcast that is transmitted to individual subscribes failed to establish infringement as streaming “to the public.”

Second Circuit: Remote DVR system does not infringe content providers' copyrights

In a decision last week, the Second Circuit reversed a lower court's grant of summary judgment holding that the defendant's remote-storage DVR system violated the plaintiffs' rights of reproduction and public performance.  The Plaintiffs were various content providers, and the defendant was a cable company.  The remote-storage DVR system lets customers store recorded television shows on a central server, rather than on a hard drive in the customer's home, like standard DVRs.

The Second Circuit, examining how the RS-DVR system worked, held that buffer copies of programs that subsisted for a maximum of 1.2 seconds were too transient to be considered "fixed" under copyright law, and as such the buffer copies were not "copies" as defined by the Copyright Act.  Further, the court held that because the copying of programming onto a consumer's specified hard drive space on the RS-DVR system was automatically done in response to a customer's request, the defendant was not liable for direct infringement, finding the situation to resemble "a store proprietor who charges customers to use a photocopier on his premises."  Finally, the court held the RS-DVR system did not infringe the public performance right, as the copies in question were only transmitted to a single subscriber using a single unique copy produced by that subscriber.  Thus, the transmissions were not performances to the "public," and did not infringe the public performance right.

More on Cartoon Network LP, LLLP v. CSC Holdings, Inc. after the jump.

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