Urban Outfitters Loses Appeal of Copyright Infringement Case, to the Tune of $530,000
Posted by Rebecca Blake on April 07, 2017
Urban Outfitters lost its appeal of a district court jury decision that found the company guilty of willful infringement, and has been ordered to pay $530,000. A small Los Angeles fabric supplier to the apparel industry, Unicolors, successfully sued Urban Outfitters for copyright infringement in district court. Urban Outfitters appealed the decision, and on April 4, the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the district court’s ruling. The court ruled that Urban Outfitters had willfully infringed of one of Unicolors’ copyrighted fabric designs. The court published the ruling, a step the Kali Hays described in WWD as unusual and indicative of the court’s intention that lower courts look to the ruling for guidance in similar cases.
At issue is a palm frond design which was originally created by Milk Print, LLC. Unicolors bought the intellectual property rights to the pattern, which they then modified slightly for printing on bolts of cloth by changing the size and color palette. The final design was registered with the Copyright Office. (Unicolors is aggressive in protecting its copyrights, having registered thousands of patterns and designs.) In 2010, Urban Outfitters developed a dress which used a textile with a that textile design. Unicolors noticed, and sent the company a cease-and-desist letter, followed by the lawsuit.
During the original trial, Unicolors provided evidence showing that Urban Outfitters maintains a library of thousands of fabric swatches, collected from vintage goods and some purchased from design studios, including Milk Print. The samples are used by Urban’s designers for “inspiration” upon creating new fashions. Unicolors argued that Urban’s failure to check on the copyright status of the swatches used by its designers showed that the company acted with “with reckless disregard for the possibility that the fabric it sampled was protected by copyright, and such conduct is sufficient evidence of willful infringement…”.
For its part, Urban argued that they had no knowledge that they were infringing, and that it’s unreasonable to expect the company to “exhaustively investigate whether any particular fabric design is protected by a copyright registration.” The court dismissed this argument: “Regardless of how difficult it may be to determine whether particular designs have been registered with the Copyright Office, a party may act recklessly by refusing, as a matter of policy, to even investigate or attempt to determine whether particular designs are subject to copyright protections.”
Intellectual property law firm Knobbe Martens covered the case in an article on their legal blog. They caution companies using existing designs: “The best practice would be to use only those works where either the author is known and permission has been received or it is clear that the work is not protected by copyright.”
The court decision can be downloaded from the Fashion Law Institute website.
Photo: public domain.
The Guild Applauds the Introduction of the “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act”
Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 27, 2017
The Graphic Artists Guild applauds the introduction of H.R. 1695, the “Register of Copyright Selection and Accountability Act of 2017,” on March 23. The legislation requires the Register of Copyrights to be appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate, and limits the position to a 10-year term. The bill is the outcome of bicameral discussions between House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT). It has broad bipartisan support, as evinced by the 29 co-sponsors.
Under current copyright law, the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. The sudden removal of the previous Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, last October cast a spotlight on the need for greater autonomy of the Copyright Office. Along with a coalition of visual artist associations, the Guild has advocated for that, including making the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointee. We urge Congress to swiftly pass the bill. Currently, the Librarian is conducting a search for a new Register of Copyrights. We respectfully ask that she suspend the search while Congress considers H.R. 1695.
Why we support making the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointment, with advice and consent of the Senate (PAS):
• Copyright is increasingly critical to the US economy, and core copyright industries contribute over $1.2 trillion to the US GDP, and employing over 5.5 million workers.
• The US Copyright Office is in dire need of modernization; some current practices date back to the late 1800s! Making the Register of Copyrights a PAS reflects the importance of the office to US economy, jobs, and creativity, and is the first step to modernizing the office.
• Making the Register a PAS ensures the independence of the Copyright Office, and that the Register is an expert in copyright. Currently, the Librarian of Congress is not bound by any standard in the selection of the Register.
• The Copyright Office resides within the Library of Congress by historical accident from the 19th century, but both offices have different missions and priorities. In fact, the Library of Congress is a stakeholder when it comes to copyright policy, creating a potential conflict of interest.
New Copyright Office Website: Responsive in More Ways than One
Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 06, 2017
On March 1st, the Copyright Office launched its new website – a huge improvement over the previous iteration. Visitors to the site are clearly directed to Office activities and resources, and a long overdue overhaul of the website’s navigation has almost eliminated the need for the “back” button. More importantly, the website is now responsive, permitting users on mobile devices to easily move about and use the website.
The site now prominently features portals to the three major activities of the Office: copyright registration, recording of documents pertaining to a copyright (including copyright transfers), and records research and certification. Underneath those are links to resources (such as copyright records search, DMCA agent registery, and schedule of fees) and education (such as the Fair Use Index, FAQs, and the history of copyright), and Quick Links to U. S. Copyright Law and news articles. Copyright professionals and advocates will be gratified to find links to recent Policy issues and open Notices of Inquiry, as well as links to recent Rulemakings.
The website launch was soon followed by the publication of the Copyright Office’s blog, “Copyright: Creativity at Work.” A recent article described the work done to redesign the website, stating that user surveys and questions received by the Public Information Office guided the IT team in redesigning the site. The blog promises ongoing articles on Office doings, policy, and outside perspectives.
Copyrightlaws.com Sheds Light on Moral Rights in the United States
Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 16, 2017
In light of the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Moral Rights, Copyrightlaws.com has done us all a favor in posting their article, “Moral Rights in US Copyright Law.” The NOI is revisiting creators’ rights, which, in the United States, are little understood. In this context, “moral rights” has little to do with religion, but refers to non-economic rights that are personal to an author. The Copyrightlaws.com article provides an easy-to-understand explanation and background information on the topic.
The article describes moral rights as those that protect the reputation of the author (not the owner) of a copyrighted work. As set out in the Berne convention, those rights include the right of paternity (the right of the author to put their name on a work, or to remain anonymous – generally when the author has economic rights in the work) and the right of integrity (the right of the author to object to any changes to their work that may damage his or her reputation).
When the United States joined the Berne Convention, it interpreted moral rights more narrowly and concluded that between federal and state laws, moral rights are explicitly protected in the US. Additionally, the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990 amended US Copyright Law to conferr additional rights (the right of attribution and the right of integrity) to the authors of certain visual works. However, those works can only exist as single copies or in limited editions of 200 or less.
The Copyright Office’s NOI asks for comments on concerns raised “with the patchwork of protection” provided by federal and state law. The questions in the NOI are extensive, and cover everything from the effectiveness of VARA, whether copyright law provisions on content management information are sufficient, and how stronger moral rights provisions could affect First Amendment rights, to how technology could address the problems authors face in protecting their rights of attribution and integrity. Comments to the Copyright Office are due March 30th.
Copyrightlaws.com publishes articles and resources on US and Canadian copyright law, and conducts etutorials on intellectual property rights. It was founded by IP attorney Lesley Ellen Harris, who has written several books on Canadian copyright law and digital property. Harris also frequently blogs on current copyright concerns.
The Guild Signs on to Comment Letter on Group Registration of Photographs
Posted by Advocacy Liaison on January 31, 2017
In conjunction with the Coalition of Visual Artists, the Graphic Artists Guild has signed on to a comment letter in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, “Group Registration of Photographs,” issued by the Copyright Office. In the Notice, the Copyright Office asked for feedback on proposed changes to the group registration of photographs. The letter submitted on behalf of the Coalition applauds the Copyright Office’s initiative in encouraging greater participation in the registration system by photographers, but raised concerns with some of the proposed changes. Of particular concern to Guild members, the letter raised issue with the exclusion of graphic artists from the group registration option.
In drafting the changes to the group registration of photographs, the Copyright Office is seeking to encourage copyright registration among photographers, streamline the registration process, and improve the recording of works by requiring digital deposits. However, graphic artists such as designers and illustrators are excluded from this option, despite the fact that these artists create works such as comps, sketches, and revisions that are delivered to clients and are ripe for infringement. The comment letter urges the Copyright Office to “offer a group registration category to all visual works.” It also points out that many visual works are mixed media, and that limiting the registration to still photography does not address how many artists work.
The comment letter addresses a number of other concerns with the proposed rulemaking, such as the limit of 750 photographs for the group registration (problematic for photographers, who often outstrip that number in the course of a single shoot), and the separate registration requirements for published and unpublished works.
The letter was submitted to the Copyright Office by Lisa Shaftel of Shaftel & Schmeltzer on behalf of the Coalition of Visual Artists. Signees to the letter include American Photographic Artists, American Society of Media Photographers, Digital Media Licensing Association, Graphic Artists Guild, National Press Photographers Association, North American Nature Photography Association, Professional Photographers of America, PLUS Coalition, Shaftel & Schmeltzer, and Doniger / BurroughsNext Page
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