MILTON H. GREENE ARCHIVES v. BPI COMMUNICATIONS | 378 F. Supp.2d 1189 | C.D. Cal. | Judgment | Law

TAYLOR, District Judge.

Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on waiver is DENIED. Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on infringement is DENIED. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on infringement is GRANTED. Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on Defendant’s affirmative defenses is MOOT.

Plaintiff claims to own copyrights in various photographs of Marilyn Monroe. Defendant published a book, Blonde Heat, displaying photographs of Marilyn Monroe. Plaintiff alleges it owns copyrights in seven photographs in Blonde Heat and Defendant infringed its copyrights by publishing the photographs without permission.

Now, Defendant moves for summary judgment on waiver and infringement, and Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on infringement and Defendant’s affirmative defenses.

Summary judgment is proper if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

A. Motion for Summary Judgment on Waiver

In 2003, Plaintiff settled an earlier copyright infringement suit against Photofest, Inc. In the settlement agreement, Defendant argues, Plaintiff executed broad releases intended to protect Photofest, Inc.’s customers from claims arising from Photofest, Inc.’s previous renting of photographs Plaintiff claimed to own, including the seven photographs at issue here.

Defendant contends it is a member of the class of customers Photofest, Inc. intended to protect in the settlement agreement, as it obtained the seven photographs from Photofest, Inc. and published Blonde Heat before the settlement agreement was executed.

Paragraph 6, the release language in the agreement, states:

The Parties, individually and on behalf of and for each of their respective parent corporations, partners, venturers, subsidiaries, estates, or corporations connected therewith, together with their respective agents, representatives, employees, officers, directors, shareholders, attorneys, successors,
assigns and heirs (collectively, “Affiliates”) agree to release any and all claims . . . which the Parties and their Affiliates had, now have, claim to have had, or otherwise could have against each other which relate in any way to, or otherwise arise out of the images at issue in the PHOTOFEST Action.

(Mandelbaum Decl. Ex. A ¶ 6 (emphasis added).)

This language is very broad. As a matter of law, “assigns” would ordinarily include Photofest, Inc.’s “customers.” But the parties have apparently provided otherwise in their agreement. In ¶ 16, they provide they “have not assigned any claims or rights made the subject of this Agreement.” (Mandelbaum Decl. ¶ 16 (emphasis added).) In effect, Photofest, Inc. agrees it does not have any “assigns.”

Based on the extrinsic evidence, the Court finds a triable issue. Howard Mandelbaum, Photofest, Inc.’s president, testified:

It was my intention and has always been my understanding . . . that the term “assigns” in the Settlement Agreement refers to Photofest’s customers. I intended, and I always have understood, that the release included any claims that potentially could arise from the use by any of Photofest’s customers of photographs rented from Photofest prior to the signing of the Settlement Agreement.

(Mandelbaum Decl. ¶ 7.)

For this motion only, the Court assumes Howard Mandelbaum’s declaration is admissible.

In contrast, Joshua Greene, Plaintiff’s president, testified:

During settlement discussions in Photofest defendants asked that the settlement reach and include Photofest customers, and I refused that request on behalf of the settling plaintiffs in the Photofest action. It was never my intent, nor that of the Plaintiffs in the Photofest action, to release any of Photofest’s customers.

(Greene Decl. ¶ 27.)

Numerous aspects of Joshua Greene’s declaration are hearsay, (Thomas Decl. Ex. N at 150-51 (citing testimony by Joshua Greene, who stated his understanding of the agreement is based entirely on communications from his attorney)), but the nonhearsay aspects of his declaration are sufficient to raise a triable issue. First, Joshua Greene testified he refused to include customers in the settlement agreement. From this testimony, one can reasonably infer he communicated his refusal to his attorney, who conveyed his refusal to opposing counsel in the Photofest, Inc. action. Second, Joshua Greene testified he never intended to release customers.
At the May 9, 2005 hearing, Plaintiff’s attorney pointed out other items of evidence support the position taken in Joshua Greene’s declaration. The Court is satisfied a triable issue is shown by the evidence now in the record.
If any party believes additional discovery is necessary as a result of this ruling, an appropriate motion may be made.

The evidence raises a triable issue on the parties’ intent. Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on waiver is DENIED.

B. Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment on Copyright Infringement

To prevail on its copyright infringement claim, Plaintiff must show ownership of a valid copyright and copying of the protected aspects of the work by Defendant. Ellison v. Robertson, 357 F.3d 1072, 1076[1] (9th Cir. 2004).

1. Ownership

A certificate of registration is prima facie evidence of ownership of a copyright. Apple Computer, Inc. v. Formula Int’l Inc., 725 F.2d 521, 523[2] (9th Cir. 1984). Based on certificates of registration, Plaintiff contends it owns copyrights for the seven photographs. (Greene Decl. ¶¶ 6-11.)

Defendant argues Plaintiff’s certificates of registration list Joshua Greene as the copyright claimant, (Greene Decl. Exs. 1-6), but Joshua Greene is not the plaintiff in this case. Defendant also argues that, although Joshua Greene declares he transferred his rights in the photographs to the Archives of Milton H. Greene LLC, (Greene Decl. ¶¶ 15-18), the Archives of Milton H. Greene LLC is not the plaintiff in this case. Defendant concludes Plaintiff has not offered any evidence showing Plaintiff — Milton H. Greene Archives, Inc. — owns the copyrights. See Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entm’t, Inc., 402 F.3d 881, 884-85[3] (9th Cir. 2005) (en banc) (stating only the owner of a copyright may sue for infringement).

Here, there is evidence Plaintiff was assigned the seven copyrights. (Soni Reply Decl. ¶ 2 Ex. L (referencing the Assignment of Copyright, assigning all rights to the copyrights to Plaintiff); Pl.’s Reply at 10 (quoting deposition testimony, in which Joshua Greene testified he transferred his rights in the photographs to Plaintiff).)

The certificates of registration constitute prima facie evidence of ownership of a copyright.

2. Validity

A certificate of registration is prima facie evidence of validity of a copyright. Apple Computer, Inc., 725 F.2d at 523[4]. Plaintiff shows evidence it has a certificate of registration for each of the seven photographs and, therefore, it contends its copyrights in the photographs are presumptively valid. (Greene Decl. ¶¶ 6-11.)

Defendant argues a certificate of registration constitutes prima facie evidence of validity if the registration is “made before or within five years after first publication of the work.” 17 U.S.C. § 410(c)[5] (emphasis added). Defendant contends Plaintiff’s photographs were first published in 1956 and 1957, (Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. at 14-16 (citing evidence)), yet Plaintiff’s certificates of registration were filed in 1994 and 2003. (Greene Decl. Exs. 1-6). Defendant argues this shows the certificates of registration were not “made before or within five years after first publication of the work.” 17 U.S.C. § 410(c)[6]. Defendant concludes Plaintiff’s certificates of registration do not constitute prima facie evidence of validity. Entm’t Research Group, Inc. v. Genesis Creative Group, Inc., 122 F.3d 1211, 1218[7] (9th Cir. 1997).

Plaintiff argues Defendant’s evidence of publication is inadmissible. First, Plaintiff contends Defendant “does not know . . . Exhibits A-1, B-1 through B-8, C-1, D-1, E-2, F-3, G-2 through G-7 are `true and correct copies’ of certain newspaper and magazine advertisements from the 1950s . . . since he did not personally obtain [them] from the purported sources.” (Pl.’s Opp’n at 6.)
This objection is overruled. Newspaper and magazine advertisements and photographs are self-authenticating. Fed.R.Evid. 902(6); Stanley v. Darlington County Sch. Dist., 879 F.Supp. 1341, 1370[8] (D.S.C. 1995) (“Because newspapers are self-authenticating under Fed.R.Evid. 902(6), the court finds that the newspaper articles offered by the District are admissible.”), rev’d in part on other grounds by 84 F.3d 707[9] (4th Cir. 1996). The campaign books are also self-authenticating as items bearing trade inscriptions, Fed.R.Evid. 902(7), and the publicity stills were authenticated by Plaintiff. (Def.’s Reply at 15 (citing evidence)).
Second, the advertisements and photographs are probably not correctly analyzed as being offered to prove the truth of the matter contained. However, even if they are, they fit within the “ancient documents” exception. Fed.R.Evid. 803(16) (noting “statements in a document in existence twenty years or more the authenticity of which is established” are an exception to the hearsay rule).
Third, Plaintiff argues Defendant’s exhibits should be excluded because they are not originals. This objection is overruled. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 1003, a duplicate is admissible unless “a genuine issue is raised as to the authenticity of the original.” Here, Plaintiff does not raise a genuine issue as to the originals’ authenticity. Defendant also represents it has several of the original sources and allowed Plaintiff to review them.
Fourth, Plaintiff contends the exhibits are of very poor quality and are inadequate to serve as a basis for comparison with the genuine photographs. Plaintiff’s contention is not well taken. The evidence shows that, for every copy available at the time of Plaintiff’s deposition, Plaintiff conceded Defendant’s copies are identical to Plaintiff’s photographs. (Def.’s Reply at 7 (citing evidence).) Plaintiff’s concession leaves only two photographs for the Court to compare. (Def.’s Reply at 8; Thomas Decl. Exs. A-1, WW.) As to the two photographs, Plaintiff has not pointed to any differences between the originals and the copies, and the Court was unable to find any.
The evidence is admissible.

Plaintiff, however, contends the 1956 and 1957 distributions are “limited publications,” and “a `limited publication’ is really in the eyes of the law no publication at all.” Data Cash Sys., Inc. v. JSA Group, Inc., 628 F.2d 1038, 1043[10] (7th Cir. 1980). Plaintiff concludes the 1956 and 1957 distributions do not constitute “first publication of the work” and the copyrights are presumptively valid.

The Court assumes, but does not decide, Defendant has the burden to show the distributions constitute a “general publication” and not a “limited publication.”

a. General Publication

Under the 1909 Copyright Act, an unpublished work is protected by a state common law copyright. But, when a work is published, it loses state common law protection. La Cienega Music Co. v. ZZ Top, 53 F.3d 950, 952-53 (9th Cir. 1995). Upon general publication of a work, the copyright owner could obtain federal protection for the published work by complying with the requirements of the 1909 Act. Id. “If the owner failed to satisfy the [1909] Act’s requirements, the published work was injected irrevocably into the public domain.” Id. at 953.

The validity of a copyright in a work distributed before 1978 is determined by the 1909 Act. Self-Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church of Self-Realization, 206 F.3d 1322, 1325[11] (9th Cir. 2000) (“Because all of the copied works were created before 1978, the Copyright Act of 1909 governs the validity of the initial copyrights.”). Here, the photographs were first distributed in 1956 and 1957.

Defendant contends Plaintiff cannot satisfy the 1909 Act’s requirements. Defendant argues the photographs were published without a copyright notice in Milton Greene’s name and with his permission.

1.) Permission

The evidence demonstrates Milton Greene permitted publication of the photographs. Joshua Greene testified Milton Greene permitted the publicists to use the photographs to promote the motion pictures and to place the photographs in newspapers, magazines, and campaign books. (Thomas Decl. Ex. H at 100-02.) For example, a newspaper published one of the photographs in connection with an advertisement publicizing a motion picture. When asked whether the photograph’s publication in the newspaper was contrary to Milton Greene’s permission, Joshua Greene answered, “No.” (Thomas Decl. Ex. H at 102-03.) Joshua Greene also testified use of the photographs in “an editorial press-release kind of style” in newspapers and magazines “is the appropriate intended use.” (Thomas Decl. Ex. H at 88; see also Def.’s Reply at 5-6 (citing evidence).)

The evidence shows Milton Greene permitted publication of the photographs.

2.) Copyright Notice

Upon publication, copyright protection under the 1909 Act could be secured by affixing a copyright notice, which included the name of the copyright proprietor, to each copy of the work “published or offered for sale in the United States by the authority of the copyright proprietor.” 17 U.S.C. § 410[12]. This requires copyright notice in the name of the copyright holder, not merely in the name of the publishing newspaper, magazine, or campaign book. N.Y. Times Co. v. Tasini, 533 U.S. 483, 494,[13] 121 S.Ct. 2381,[14] 150 L.Ed.2d 500[15] (2001).

While none of the photographs includes a copyright notice in Milton Greene’s name, copyright language on the back of one of the photographs appears to reference “International News Photos” and “King Features Syndicate, Inc.” (Pl.’s Opp’n at 15 n. 13; Thomas Decl. Ex. E-1.) Copyright language on another photograph states, “Copyright 1957 Warner Bros. Pictures Distributing Corporation.” (Pl.’s Opp’n at 15 n. 13; Thomas Decl. Ex. F-2.)
Under the applicable law, they do not constitute sufficient copyright notice.

When a work is published in a larger copyrighted collective work, the failure to place a copyright notice on the individual work forfeits the individual’s copyright. Id. (“Pre-1976 copyright law recognized a freelance author’s copyright in a published article only when the article was printed with a copyright notice in the author’s name. . . . [W]hen a copyright notice appeared only in the publisher’s name, the author’s work would fall into the public domain, unless the author’s copyright, in its entirety, had passed to the publisher.”).

Plaintiff offers the declaration of Joshua Greene, who testified: “I am aware that my father, Milton H. Greene, always applied copyright notice on the back of prints be provided to the movie studios.” (Greene Decl. ¶ 21.)

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