5 copyright cases you can learn from [2020 update]

These five copyright cases will help you understand how copyright works.

Copyright cases are everywhere: Copyright law is confusing in nature. This confusion gives birth to a new infringement case every other time. The law has never been easy. The authors have been in a constant fight, battling issues over copyright infringements

Here are five Copyright infringement examples that’d help you understand how copyright law works.

1. Netflix sued for ‘Tiger King’

Netflix’s show Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness became wildly popular in a short time.

The show became one of the most-watched shows on the streaming service. But the show ran into a copyright case about its name.

Hollywood Weekly magazine sued Netflix over usage of the name ‘Tiger King.’ The publication claimed that the name was first used in their magazine in 2013. The name referred to the zoo owner Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage. The magazine claims ‘Tiger King” is exclusively connected with the profile and used ever since. And they have also trademarked the name “Tiger King.”

The magazine is suing Netflix for “trademark and copyright infringement, unfair business practices and unjust enrichment.”

The publication claims the use of the name in Netflix’s “gaudy” documentary show affected their brand and reputation.

The complaint reads, “HWM is receiving comments from their advertisers for switching to a gossip magazine when their motto has always been ‘No Gossip, Strictly Entertainment.‘”

The magazine’s “involvement” with the “gaudy” show has led to advertisers cancelling ads with the magazine.

This isn’t the only copyright infringement Netflix for their popular show Tiger King. The show has slowly been turning controversial.

Timothy Sepi, the owner of Whyte Monkee Productions filed a complaint against Netflix’s Tiger King. He claims Netflix used video clips shot and owned by him without proper attribution or monetary compensation.

From March 2015, Sepi worked with Joseph Maldanado-Passage as a graphic designer for his Park. But before Sepi started working for Maldanado-Passage, a fire destroyed many footages of him.

In May 2015, Sepi formed Whyte Monkee Productions to create videos of the Park and its owner. Maldanado-Passage approved this move.

Whyte Monkee Productions shot many videos under their banner. Sepi uploaded these copyrighted videos to YouTube.

Sepi claims Netflix used his videos in five out of eight episodes of Tiger King. Sepi sent a notice of copyright infringement to Netflix. If found guilty, Netflix could pay a considerable compensation due to the show’s success.

What can we learn from this?

Considering the copyright law, you need to gain proper permissions from the original author before using it in your work. You should always check for copyright claims on the work before using it.

2. Jonas Brothers and the photograph

Joshua Wong Photography, LLC has sued Nick Jonas and the Jonas Brothers Enterprises for unauthorized use of their photos.

The company claims that Nick Jonas shared a photograph of Priyanka Chopra on his social media handles – Instagram and Twitter. The company claims the use as unauthorized and a violation of the Copyright Act.

Nick Jonas shared an image of Priyanka Chopra over his Instagram account, where the picture gained close to 800,000 likes. The same post on Twitter from Nick’s handle received 8800 likes. Priyanka Chopra is the wife of Nick Jonas, and they got married in 2018.

The image shared has Priyanka Chopra standing in front of Johnson & Johnson’s background. The description reads, “So proud of who you are and the good you’ve brought into the world as a goodwill ambassador with @unicef @unicefindia for over 15 years now. You inspire me every single day by just being you. Congratulations my love.”

Joshua Wong Photography claims that the company owns the image, and they have the copyright to it. According to the copyright case, Nick used the photograph without consent from the owner. They say that the act has been willful and intentional and seeks relief in actual damages, defendant’s profits, damages, fees, costs, and more.

If adjudged wilful, the defendant could face heavy damages and other costs.

What can we learn from this?

The best way to stay out of copyright infringement is to stick with original content. Using someone else’s work will need their written permission to avoid any issues in the future.

3. Genius vs. Google

Genius, a website which has an extensive collection of song lyrics, sued Google for copying lyrics from their website and displaying in their search result.

But the result had a twist.

Searching for a song in Google displays its lyrics in the information box above all the search results.

Genius claimed that Google was copying the lyrics from their website. This was a breach of contract as per the terms and conditions.

Google claimed that they sourced the lyrics via licensing partnerships with LyricFind, and several music publishers.

But Genius started to place apostrophes secretly within the lyrics as a code, and Google displayed the same code.

So, Genius argued, saying Google is copying lyrics from their website. Google argued back, saying that it is a copyright case.

The lawsuit became a case of copyright infringement. But the lyrics are copyright protected by the owner, and Genius did not own any part. Genius could claim copyright on its lyrics based on derivative works. Though, Genius needs to have proper permission from the owners to claim the lyrics as derivative works.

The federal court dismissed the complaint stating that there was no claim of copyright.

What can we learn from this?

The original work owner can only claim copyright infringement. You can copyright derivative works, but with the original author’s permission.

4. Google vs. Oracle

Oracle has sued Google for using Oracle’s Java API in Google’s Android software. This particular case is “the copyright case of the century.”

It all began in May 2014, where the case first focused on whether Java APIs are copyright protected. The federal court held that Java APIs copyright protected.

Google claimed that it was fair use, and a jury supported their claim. So, in May 2016, Google’s use of Oracle’s Java API as fair use. Oracle challenged the verdict in June 2016; but the court denied it.

Oracle appealed to the Federal court on the fair use ruling. While Google appealed to preserve the claim that Java APIs are non-copyrightable.

In March 2018, the court reversed the decision. The court claimed that Google’s work was not fair use and denied that Java APIs are not copyrightable.

In January 2019, Google reached out to the supreme court to review the Federal court’s decisions.

This long-old fight hinges on two questions:

  1. Can you copyright basic code like Java?
  2. If you can copyright Java, making use of the code for interoperability purposes for fair use?

Oracle says “no” to both the questions stating Java is a complex creation. They say, Google merely copied them because they couldn’t come up with their own code.

The Supreme court’s decision will have a significant effect on software development. If the supreme court lets the federal court’s decision stand, then Oracle will win the case. Then, Google might have to pay billions of dollars in damages.

With a reversed decision, the software will have little to no protection from copyright.

What can we learn from this?

The case has led to questioning the software’s eligibility to be copyrightable and using its code for fair use. The Supreme court’s decision will offer more transparency on software copyright and fair use.

5. Controversial TikTok

The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) of the US has threatened to sue the controversial social networking platform, TikTok, for copyright infringement.

NMPA is a body representing thousands of music publishers and songwriters. TikTok is a social networking platform owned by a Chinese company named Bytedance. The platform allows its users to create short videos based on music. The app launched in 2018 and shot its way to the top of the app stores list.

The song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X credits TikTok for making it one of the biggest hits of 2019.

But the app does not have the appropriate licenses to use the songs in creating short videos.

Universal Music is the world’s largest record label and member of NMPA. They have been negotiating licenses with TikTok, but they haven’t reached an agreement.

ICE, a joint venture that represents digital music rights, has been negotiating with TikTok for licenses as well. But they have failed to reach an agreement as well.

The music industry does not like TikTok, making use of their songs. But they are aware of TikTok’s disruptive power to bring in new artists and engage with fans.

Both parties await an outcome and an agreement between them.

What can we learn from this?

Music is copyrightable! Ensure you have the proper licenses and appropriate permissions from the owners before making use of their work.

What you learned from these 5 copyright cases?

  1. Copyright is a confusing law, and you should action it with the utmost caution

  2. Making use of copyrighted work without proper permissions can end in copyright infringements. You can end up paying for the damages

  3. Fair use is an exception to the copyright law; yet, you shouldn’t abuse it in a way that harm’s the original work

  4. Be creative. Be innovative. Come up with your original work, and you won’t have to worry about copyright infringements!