Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Copyright make-up tips - How to make a lasting impression

The 1709 Blog is happy to host this guest contribution by former 1709 Blog team member Hugo Cox (Hamlins LLP) on a recent decision of the High Court of England and Wales concerning copyright and make-up.

Here's what Hugo writes:

Copyright make-up tips - How to make a lasting impression
by Hugo Cox

One of the basic requirements for copyright protection in the UK is ‘fixation’ – the work has to have material form.

But what happens if the work loses its material form? Does the copyright protection disappear too? This question is of some significance to those who create things that do not last, whether they are disposed of, eaten or otherwise annihilated…

The question has now been decided in Islestarr Holdings Ltd v Aldi Stores Ltd, a judgment delivered on 17 June concerning the make-up powder palettes below:

Islestarr had been selling its Filmstar Palette since 2013, retailing for about £49 and clocking sales to date of £12.9m. When Aldi began selling its palette for £6.99 (reduced to £4.99), Islestarr sued for copyright infringement, pointing to Aldi’s slogan ‘Like brands, only cheaper’.

Aldi resisted the claim arguing, among other things, copyright could not subsist ‘in such a transitory medium as the top surface of a powder as the purported copyright work is not thereby fixed.’

The judge took a different view:
I am in no doubt that the design embossed into the powders can be subject to copyright protection in principle. Otherwise, artistic works by, for example, persons who make sculptures out of sand at low water on a tidal beach, which are then washed away, could have no claim to copyright in, say, a pre-construction sketch or photograph of the completed work. Likewise, I can see no reason why the creator of a bespoke wedding cake could not claim copyright in his or her work. The fact that the design in the powders disappears by being rubbed away by the user, does not, in my judgment, affect or remove the copyright protection to which such an artistic work is entitled, as that is as set out as a visual record in Annex 4. In other words, the powders are a three-dimensional reproduction of the two-dimensional object, namely the drawing.
Certainly, this conclusion is aligned with the CJEU’s recent ruling in Levola Hengelo on whether the taste of cheese can be protected by copyright. The CJEU reasoned:
Accordingly, for there to be a “work” as referred to in Directive 2001/29, the subject matter protected by copyright must be expressed in a manner which makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity, even though that expression is not necessarily in permanent form.
The judge in our case then determined:

  • Though copyright does not protect individual words (such as the words SCULPT and HIGHLIGHT embossed on the powder), copyright did subsist in the presence of the words as part of the overall artistic work.
  • Though Art Deco has inspired the Islestarr designs and Fabergé and others had manufactured objects decorated with sun rays and diamonds, Islestarr had made their own intellectual choices in creating their designs.
  • Aldi had admitted being aware of Islestarr’s packaging, there were substantial similarities between the designs and Aldi failed to persuade the judge those similarities did not result from copying.

He therefore decided to award summary judgment against Aldi.

Transient creations are not, it seems, at least in the eyes of UK copyright law, so transient after all.

Monday, 12 August 2019

THE COPYKAT - in the wake of "Blurred Lines" - more blurred lines

There have been two major US decisions in the word of music and sound recordings with a win for Kraftwerk and a loss for Katy Perry, and in the background a third (the Led Zepplin "Stairway to Heaven" case waits for an upcoming an en banc appeal in the Ninth Circuit, and a fourth involving Ed Sheerhan in turn waiting for that decision (Sheerhan v Townsend) with Judge Louis L Stanton acknowledging that as the appeal judges will be considering some copyright technicalities that are very relevant to the 'Thinking Out Loud' action, even if not binding, to proceed with Sheerhan case in "wilful ignorance" of their conclusions would be "folly". 

First off - sampling: The European Court of Justice sided with German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, ruling that unauthorised sampling of even brief clips of a sound recording can constitute copyright infringement as long as they are recognisable, in a long running case that has added some clarity to how sampling should be treated in the European Union. Kraftwerk brought the action against hip-hop producers Moses Pelham and Martin Haas in 1999 over the Sabrina Setlur track “Nur Mir”, which revolves around a two-second snippet of Kratfwerk's “Metall auf Metall” used as a loop.

In 2012, Germany's Federal Court Of Justice found in favour of Kraftwerk, in part on the basis that Pelham could have easily recreated the sound he sampled, so clipping the snippet out of 'Metal On Metal' was just laziness. Four years later the German Constitutional Court overturned that judgement, deciding Pelham's "artistic freedom" had to be considered - and that the negative impact on Kraftwerk caused by the uncleared sample wasn't sufficient to outweigh the sampler's artistic rights. The case was then referred to the CJEU.

Making clear the difference between sampling a recording and copying part (or all) of a song, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar wrote in his opinion "A phonogram is not an intellectual creation consisting of a composition of elements such as words, sounds, colours etc. A phonogram is a fixation of sounds which is protected, not by virtue of the arrangement of those sounds, but rather on account of the fixation itself" adding "Consequently, although, in the case of [other creative works], it is possible to distinguish the elements which may not be protected, such as words, sounds, colours etc, from the subject-matter which may be protected in the form of the original arrangement of those elements, such a distinction is not, however, possible in the case of a phonogram".

In the second major case, a jury has now ruled that the Katy Perry song Dark Horse does plagiarise a Christian rap songAfter two days of deliberations, the jurors concluded that Perry's team had likely heard 2008 release 'Joyful Noise' before writing 'Dark Horse', and that the latter was sufficiently similar to the former to constitute copyright infringement.

Both producer Dr Luke, a co-writer on Perry's hit and Perry herself said they had never heard of 'Joyful Noise' nor heard of the artist behind it, the rapper Flame, real name Marcus Gray - before they started work on their song and recording. Gray's team argued that there had been many opportunities for Perry and her co-writers to to have heard 'Joyful Noise' and argued that whilst the copying may not have been deliberate,  her team had subconsciously infringed the earlier work. Gray's legal team also also pointed to the similarities between the two songs - each share a distinct musical phrase consisting of four C notes followed by two B notes. Perry's legal team argued that this was a very common musical phrase that couldn't possibly be protected by copyright. Luke added that if the court did indeed decide that a musical phrase of this kind enjoyed copyright protection, it could set a dangerous precedent that would impede the music making process.

They're trying to own basic building blocks of music, the alphabet of music that should be available to everyone," said Katy's lawyer Christine Lepera during her closing arguments in court last week, but the jury has accepted that this was copyright infringement. The case now goes to a penalty phase, where the jury will decide how much Perry and other defendants owe for copyright infringement.  Jurors found all six songwriters and all four corporations that released and distributed the songs were liable, including Perry and Sarah Hudson, who wrote the song’s words, Juicy J, who wrote the rap he provided for the song. Other defendants found liable included Capitol Records as well as Perry’s producers: Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Cirkut, who came up with the song’s beat.

A wide array of artists – including Korn, Tool, Sean Lennon, Linkin Park and  Jason Mraz have joined the amicus brief submitted in the ongoing ‘Stairway To Heaven’ case, supporting the British rock band in their arguments and calling on the judges in the Ninth Circuit appeals court to uphold the earlier ruling that Led Zeppelin did copy ‘Taurus’ when they wrote their 1971 classic. In total 123 artists support the amicus brief saying that if the original ruling in the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ case is overturned it could create a dangerous precedent that would be hugely detrimental to songwriting and an assumption that “trivial and commonplace similarities between two songs could be considered to constitute the basis for a finding of infringement” and that this would confuse artists, stifle creativity, and result in “excessive and unwarranted” litigation by artists and lawyers seeking to profit from ambiguities in the law.

Rolling Stone magazine published the article Why All Your Favorite Songs Are Suddenly Being Sued? asking asking why is so much music being hit with lawsuits, in a trend a trend that shows no sign of slowing. You can find that here and more comment and analysis here (from Professor Edward Lee in the Washington Post

Major US broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC Universal have filed a lawsuit against an upstart online TV service offering free over-the-air digital TV service. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in New York alleges Locast owner, New York-based non-profit advocacy group Sports Fans Coalition violates broadcaster copyrights streaming content to users for free. The suit is similar to 2013 litigation brought by studios against Aereo, the defunct OTT service that transmitted digital signals to subscribers via over-the-air antennas. The litigation also pits broadcasters against AT&T, which owns and operates WarnerMedia — although the telecom is not party to the lawsuit. More here and here

And more from the US: Bloomberg Law reports that a battle over banana costumes continues in federal court with one manufacturer under order to stop selling full-body banana suits because they likely infringe another’s valid copyright.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s order stopping Kangaroo Manufacturing Inc. from selling banana costumes that are confusingly similar to plaintiff Rasta Imposta’s copyrighted design. Rasta’s copyright is valid because it didn’t “monopolize the underlying idea” of a banana, the court said. More here

And finally - copyright notices - serious business yes? It seems not always! Techdirt have been doing some digging and have found some very amusing notices that certainly do not fit in with the prescribed formats: How about ""No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, cookie jar or spare room... Unless you want to write the whole thing out in green crayon, in which case feel free." and "This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, carried across the country by relay, fired into space, turned upside down, eaten... On pain of death."

Thursday, 8 August 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Copyright and the Court of Justice of the European Union by Eleonora Rosati

Copyright and the Court of Justice of the European Union by Eleonora Rosati [Oxford University Press, 2019, ISBN: 9780198837176, #pp273, £70.00, h/bk]

This title focuses on the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), primarily its role, action, and its legacy in the area of copyright law. In light of the fact that copyright policy and legislative initiatives have intensified over the past few years, the book provides a thorough overview of the existing copyright framework, together with an exclusive survey that covers two decades of CJEU decisions in this area of the law – up to August 2018. In doing so, it explores all the key and controversial issues in EU copyright from EU reform proposals (value gap, press publishers' right, fair compensation for private copying, and out-of-commerce works) to the impact of Brexit. 


As such, the book is presented in three main parts. The first part is looks at the role of the CJEU as an EU institution, the second considers the action of the CJEU and the third part focuses on the CJEU legacy. 

A. Part One: EU harmonization and the functioning of the CJEU 

Chapter one provides an overview of the history of EU harmonisation from the adoption of the 1991 Software Directive and explains the structure, composition and work of the CJEU. It also looks at the references for preliminary ruling, including data on areas of the cases referred to, the referring Member State Courts, intervening Member States, Judges-Rapporteur and Attorney Generals (AG). The research demonstrates the expansive approach to copyright protection, whereby the CJEU tended to agree with the AG opinion when it favoured copyright holders. 

Chapter two focuses on the standards consistently applied in copyright rulings using a data-based case law analysis to demonstrate the principles and policies the CJEU have utilised in the development of EU copyright law. The second part of this chapter provides novel statistical analysis that illustrates the relations between such standards. 

B. Part Two: CJEU Action 

The second part looks at how the underlying principles discussed in Part One play out in specific cases relation to: 1) the construction of economic rights [chapter four], 2) limitations and exceptions [chapter five], 3) enforcement [chapter six]. It delves into the question of whether the CJEU action, which has decreased flexibility at national level and expanded harmonisation, exceeds its competence as an interpreter of EU copyright law. 

This part is made up of four chapters. Chapter three demonstrates the CJEU activity that has extended the boundaries of harmonisation further than the legislation alone, building substantially those areas of law beyond the legislative framework. The conclusions drawn show the common patterns of the CJEU in constructing a copyright system based on high-protection, harmonisation and the development of the internal-market. 

C. Part Three: The Legacy of the CJEU 

The third part focuses on the legacy of the CJEU, specifically from the perspective of the impact on national copyright laws [chapter seven] and of existing case law in the context of current policy discourse around EU copyright reform [chapter eight].

Chapter seven considers the legacy of the CJEU in view of Brexit, tackling the consequences of leaving the EU and EEA. It argues that even in the event of complete departure, the impact of the CJEU case law would remain relevant, highlighted by the reliance of the UK Courts on the EU Courts and amending domestic concepts accordingly. 

Part three concludes with chapter eight highlighting the polarization of the discourse around EU copyright reform. It argues, for example, that the proposals made in the Digital Single Market Directive went against the legislative framework and the interpretations of the CJEU, which need to be taken into account in the discourse of EU copyright reform. 


The goal of the book is to provide readers with a sense of direction of EU copyright cases by rationalising the large number of references to the CJEU and portray an underlying CJEU action in copyright. This is achieved with robust and novel research that sets out the power of the CJEU in shaping EU copyright law to a degree of harmonisation, impact and significance of the decisions. Importantly, it is convincingly argued that harmonisation as and end is not the guiding force of CJEU action, instead it has developed a principle approach to copyright protection. The guarantee of a high level of protection for copyright has allowed the CJEU to develop an expansive protection for copyright and a narrow scope for exceptions and limitations. The need for a fair balance between conflicting interests has also guided the Court to rely on standards such as proportionality and effectiveness, as well as the EU Charter playing an increasingly prevalent role. 

A. Appeal and Audience 

This book makes an important contribution to the literature, as Advocate General Maciej Szpunar (CJEU) explains in the forward: ‘This extremely profound analysis by Professor Rosati of EU copyright protection and relevant Court of Justice decisions constitute uncharted territory, unveiling new information, perhaps never considered, event by members of the Court like myself.’ As such, this book would appeal to anyone interested in European Copyright law, including practitioners, judges, policy makers, academics, researchers and students. The writing style enables the complexities of EU Copyright issues to be understood, providing clarity to a challenging area of law with rigour and ease. 

THERE IS A 20% DISCOUNT AVAILABLE for individual purchases from the OUP website - Quote promotional code ALFLY5F to claim your 20% discount and with the price of this book discounted to £56 (terms apply). 

Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher

Tuesday, 30 July 2019


Unauthorised sampling - the CJEU adds some clarity

The core issue in this all important case between the German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and and hip-hop producers Moses Pelham and Martin Haas in 1999 over the Sabrina Setlur song “Nur Mir”, which revolves around thse sample a two-second snippet of Kratfwerk's “Metall auf Metall” used as a loop was whether a license is required for sampling and could non-pursual of the same violate the phonogram producers rights? The AG's opinion which was released in December and 2018 gave an affirmative view to the same arguing that the “reproduction in part” does not require copied portions to be original. The CJEU in its decision (according to IPKAT and the Press Release) has stated that the reproduction of a sound sample by a user even if a very short clip must be regarded as a reproduction in principle “in part” and falls in the realm of the exclusive ownership of the phonogram producer. However the court went on to add that a rational respect towards freedom of artiatic expression in music must be recognised when the sampled portion is creatively played with to the extent that it is unrecognisable to the ear in another phonogram. In that case it won’t be a reproduction.  So the CJEU has now said that sampling a sound recording, however short a snippet the sampler takes, needs approval from the copyright owner of the original track and in accordance with the same it held the German Legislation allowing for an exception in the case of sampling as incompatible with the EU law, and it imperative to harmonize this substantive phonogram producers exclusive right irrespective of the fundamental right grounds claimed by the national jurisdiction. 

5 Seconds of Summer accused of copying by Hungarian songwriters

Moving from sampling to allegations of plagiarism, A Texas court recently saw a case where the Aussie pop group Five Seconds of Summer had been accused of ripping off a 2018 hit called “Younghood” from a song composed by Hungary based musicians David Henderson, David Toth and Peter Ferencz called “White Shadows”. It has been alleged by the applicants that the success of this rip-off has substantially taken to band to new heights virtually single-handedly, as reported by Complete Music UpdateIt has been alleged that the first melodic phrase of “Youngblood” shares virtual identicality with the similarly placed phrase from “White Shadow” and are both repeated equal number of times in the songs i.e. 4 times. The lay-listener has been used to allege an infringement by the Hungarian composers. It has further been alleged that the worldwide acclaim and substantial revenue which has been garnered by virtue of Youngblood, is a result of exploitation and appropriation and the applicant’s deserve accreditation and compensation in lieu of the same.

Take a listen - with the Applicant’s song is here and the allegedly infringing song here . In a second major case, a jury has now ruled that the Katy Perry song Dark Horse does plagiarise a Christian rap song. After two days of deliberations, the jurors concluded that Perry's team had likely heard 2008 release 'Joyful Noise' before writing 'Dark Horse', and that the latter was sufficiently similar to the former to constitute copyright infringement.

Now NIKE sues Kawhi Leonard - claiming exclusive rights on its Logo!

Nike has filed a countersuit against NBA star Kawhi Leonard, arguing that it holds exclusive rights to the claw logo that its “talented team of designers” created and claims its distinct from the design that Leonard had sketched and provided to the company, his “Klaw” logo, which he had conceived and created in college drawing on his hands. Although it has been admitted by the NIKE legal representatives that  Kawhi Leonard had submitted a design, they have gone on to state that it is a false claim that the design was the “Claw” design, as reported in the Bulletin. In the form of a counter claim, NIKE has gone on to now allege copyright infringement and breach of contract. This has been done in lieu of the use of the claw design on non-Nike apparel in the NBA finals. Nike had already served notice to Leonard’s lawyers in lieu of the same which was responded with non-agreement and compliance. Nike has further argued as reported in that Leonard had on an earlier occasion claimed that “I drew up the rough draft and sent it over and they made it perfect. They refined it and made it look better than I thought it would ever be, and I’m extremely happy with the final version.” Further, Nike has produced the initial sketch in the court which was given by Leonard which looks like an amateur drawing as has been reported by the Bulletin. Also, Nike does not claim any ownership over this initial rough design, rather merely on the final refined version.

CASE Act passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee

As had been reported by PetaPixel, the long awaited CASE Act has been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee - if passed, the bill will  go on to establish a small claims court for Copyright Infringement cases in the USA. There is yet to be a full vote on the Senate Floor. Currently, to defend one’s copyright, a direct action needs to be made before the Federal Court which is an expensive and an extremely formalistic procedure. However, this act if legislated successfully would establish a small claims tribunal within the US Copyright Office, simplifying defense of copyrights. The highest amount of damages which can be awarded by this court per infringed work would be $15,000 with the total being a maximum of $30,000. This definitely increases the efficiency and reduces a certain amount of burden on the Federal Court. It will involve the appointment of three full-time Copyright Claims Officers who will look after the same.

This bill has been extensively supported by the US photographers, illustrators, graphic artists, songwriters and authors as well as bloggers! Even the National Press Photographers Association went ahead to commend the pressing of this act in the Senate by saying ““This is a very positive step in addressing infringement issues, where previously individual creators felt they had a right with no remedy because of the high cost of copyright litigation”, as reported by PetaPixel. The only criticism which has been drawn however has been upon the unappealable nature of this tribunal and the high amount of $30,000 being involved as a punitive power. 

It will be interesting to see the voting view taken by the Senate floor.

DailyMotion denied safe harbour protection

Dailymotion has been ordered to pay €5.5m in damages to Italian broadcaster Mediaset with the Rome court saying that Dailymotion was “entirely aware” of copyright infringement. As reported by Complete Music Update, in a case brought in by the Italian TV company RTI against  Dailymotion, it was argued by the applicant that Dailymotion should be held liable for hosting copyright infringing content without a license, involving programmes of the applicant. The take-down commitments were fulfilled by Dailymotion, and upon serving a notice, it had taken down such alleged infringing material. However, the Rome Court, absolved the safe harbour protection available to such intermediaries like Dailymotion as it did not fulfil the criteria set out in the EU E-Commerce directive, which is the origin point of the EU Safe Harbour norms. It has been ruled to be an “Active Host”. For failing to have a filtering mechanism and a system to automatically remove all such infringing content, Dailymotion has been asked to pay 5.5 million euros in damages. This has greatly increased the responsibility of a user-upload based intermediary platform and has reduced the standard from actual knowledge to mere presence. The courts of Rome have further refused to involve the European Court to confirm and clarify the interpretation and applicability of the EC Directive. It has been held that the right holder did not have an obligation to provide URL’s for the content that the platform should remove in its take down request and a simple indication in the title of the video would be sufficient. This seems all the more as an absurd and a non-sustainable interpretation and it will be interesting to see how this case turns out in lieu of the pending cases on the interpretation of Article 14 of the EC Directive in the CJEU. Although, this decision has been hailed by Italian media Conglomerate wherein it has reportedly been stated by its Chief Executive that: “Today’s decision is therefore an authentic turning point in consolidated national and EU jurisprudence (repeatedly referred to by the Court in the judgment in question) aimed at protecting the work of publishers, which is under attack by diverse forms of online piracy: A phenomenon that destroys both economic value and jobs in journalism and publishing companies.” (Reported by IBC 365). More on this in the IPKAT.

The functionality doctrine revisited in the Lego’s Copyright dispute against its British Competitor

The world famous toy maker from Denmark, Lego, has successfully won a copyright infringement suit against a British competitor in the US District court for the District of Connecticut. This dispute was launched in 2011 when Lego had sued Best-Lock for producing and selling infringing minifigurines. It was alleged, as reported by World IP review, that Best Lock’s advertisements had highlighted the well-known interchangeability of its figures and body parts with Lego’s. The main argument of the defendant in this case was the elements of Lego’s copyrighted work being functional. The court after confirming access, went on to conclude that the fact that some elements of the work are functional doesn’t render the whole work as non-copyrightable. The court said: “A comparison of the works makes clear that Best-Lock has copied protectable, expressive elements that are original to Lego”  Remember the case of Broderbund Software v. Unison World?

Copyright Protection of Military Reports, of national importance

In a very important opinion issued by the CJEU on a reference made in context of litigation between the German Government and a newspaper over unauthorized publication of “Afghanistan papers” and certain confidential reports, wherein the question of interplay of Copyright and Freedom of Press was brought in before the CJEU. Basically, the question was can freedom of expression and information be a valid defense for copyright infringement? The AG opinion reflected reluctance in admitting copyrightability of military reports. However, the CJEU has gone on to rule that Freedom of Information and press are not justifiable grounds to derogate from rights of copyright holders beyond exceptions set out itself within the InfoSoc directive. The concept of external limitations is not viable in law. As on the question of whether military reports are copyrightable in the first place, the court went on to hold that it is upon the national courts to decide whether the conditions of copyrightability and intellectual creation showing free and creative choices are there in these reports or not. If fulfilling the criteria of being a “work”, no justification in the form of freedom of information is sustainable.

The court went on to finally hold that: “As is clear from the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, for the purpose of striking a balance between copyright and the right to freedom of expression, that court has, in particular, referred to the need to take into account the fact that the nature of the ‘speech’ or information at issue is of particular importance, inter alia in political discourse and discourse concerning matters of the public interest. In those circumstances, having also underlined the way in which Funke Medien published the military status reports on the internet, the Court of Justice states that it is not inconceivable that such use may be covered by the exception concerning current events reporting provided for in the Copyright Directive.” More on this once the judgment is available  on IPKAT.

And finally - trolls get a bashing

A High Court Judge has torn apart a trolling application made against Virgin subscribers in the United Kingdom - Douglas Campbell QC's can be found on TorrentFreak and is well worth a read - here's a snippet: "I do not accept that I should simply assume that a 9 year old expert report remains up to date, particularly one given in the field of computer software,” the Judge commented, noting that the report also lacked the required “statement of truth” to comply with civil procedure rules  ..... . 

This Copykat by Akshat Agrawal

Copyright Infringement Suit Against Supermodel Gigi Hadid Dismisssed

Judge Pamela K. Chen from the Eastern District Court of New York dismissed on July 18 a copyright infringement suit filed by XClusive-Lee, Inc. against supermodel Gigi Hadid, claiming that a picture she posted on her Instagram account was infringing.

Hadid’s Instagram account currently has almost 49 million followers, interested in viewing family pictures, fashion magazines cover featuring Hadid, fashion shoots and fashion photographs. Hadid posted in October 2018 a cropped version of a photograph of her taken the day before by a paparazzi outside Vogue’s Force of Fashion conference, where Hadid was part of a panel

The original version of the photograph showed Defendant wearing a denim jacket and shorts, a small handbag, high heels, jewelry and make up, smiling at the camera in an outdoor urban setting, probably outside the New York City studio where the conference took place. 

The photo posted by Hadid on social media was cropped mid-thigh. She added as comment:”all smiles post #ForceOfFashionpanel @voguemagazine.wearing #messikabygigihadid mini-cuffs and mono earing”, referring to a line of jewelry bearing her name which is sold by a French jeweler.  The “mono earrings”referred to in the post retail at $5,710. 

Xclusive-Lee, Inc., the company which owns the copyright to this photograph, filed a copyright infringement suit against Hadid in January 2019, claiming Hadid “copied and posted Copyrighted Photograph to Hadid’s Instagram account without license or permission from Xclusive-Lee.” It claimed that it was entitled to statutory damages, including any profits realized by Hadid attributable to the infringement, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504

As a reminder, a work is protected by copyright, if it is fixed in a tangible medium and if it is original enough, even if it is not registered. However, a registration is required if filing a copyright infringement suit, and the Supreme Court recently held in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street. Com LLC  that § 411(a) of the Copyright Act requires that copyright registration occurs “only when the Copyright Office grants registration” (at 888).

At the time of filing the suit, Plaintiff had applied for a copyright in the photograph, but had not been granted registration. Plaintiff argued that it had filed the copyright infringement suit before the Fourth Estate decision, but the EDNY rejected the argument as the Court cannot decline applying a Supreme Court decision “merely because the Supreme Court decision was issued after the filing of the compliant at issue in this case.”
The case was dismissed because the photograph was not registered with the Copyright Office.
That said, posting a photograph protected by copyright on Instragram without permission is copyright infringement. The Complaint noted that Hadid’s Instagram account featured several examples of “uncredited photographs of Hadid in public, at press events, or on the runway” and that “[m]ost if not all of these photographs were posted by Hadid without license or permission from the copyright holder.” 

Could it be fair use? Hadid may have used this photograph in order to contribute to the promotion of her jewelry line. Therefore, the character of the use, one of the four fair use factors, may have been for commercial gain, not for the sake of commenting or news reporting for the Vogue conference.
The second factor, the nature of the work, would probably be in Hadid’s favor, as it is not very creative. Hadid did not use all of the work, but cropped it, but she nevertheless substantially used the work, and so the third factor could have been in Plaintiff’s favor as well. The fourth factor, the economic effect on the value of the work, measures the effect of the use on the market. The picture could be licensed to be used on her Instagram account in order to promote a commercial line, and so it is possible that the fourth factor would have been in Plaintiff’s favor. 

It could it be argued that this particular photograph was not protected by copyright, as a work must be original enough to be protected. The photo was taken in the streets of New York, and must have been taken quickly, thus leaving little time for the photographer to make choices. Hadid deftly takes the pose, and it can be argued that it is her professional experience which contributed to the picture being original, unless the pose was directed by the photographer.
If a copyright registration had been granted before filing the case, the suit would likely not have been dismissed, as fair use is fact-based and thus is unlikely to be decided when granting a motion to dismiss.

However, if a copyright registration is mandatory for filing a copyright infringement suit, the Copyright Office may start to examine more closely whether a particular work is indeed original enough to be protected by copyright…

Take-away: Plaintiff must have a valid copyright registration before filing a copyright infringement suit.