IP/Entertainment Law Weekly Case Update for Motion Picture Studios and Television Networks
November 17, 2010
Table of Contents
J&J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Jimenez, USDC S.D. Cal., November 8, 2010
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Plaintiff sued defendants, owners of a restaurant in Calexico, Calif., claiming an unlawful broadcast of a sporting event, in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 605 (unauthorized publication or use of communications) and 47 U.S.C. § 553 (unauthorized reception of cable service), both of which provide for statutory damages.
- District court holds that defendants are entitled to a jury trial on statutory damages claims under 47 U.S.C. § 605 (unauthorized publication or use of communications) and 47 U.S.C. § 553 (unauthorized reception of cable service).
Plaintiff moved to strike defendants’ demand for a jury trial on the statutory damages claims. Generally, a litigant possesses a right to a jury trial only if such right is conferred by statute or preserved under the Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court found that the Ninth Circuit has not addressed the issue of the availability of a jury trial for these claims. In Tull v. United States, 481 U.S. 412 (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court established a two-step analysis to determine if a party has a jury trial right. First, the court must look to the particular statute to determine if Congress intended to grant such a right. Second, if the statute itself is not determinative, the court must undertake a constitutional analysis to determine if the claim at issue is the same or analogous to actions that existed at common law and, thus, is subject to trial by jury.
Both §§ 553 and 605 state that a party may recover statutory damages “as the court considers just.” The district court found that this language was not indicative of any ascertainable congressional intent, and moved on to a constitutional analysis.
The court examined the nature of the right, to see if it is analogous to one that existed at common law, and then asked whether the remedy in question was legal and therefore covered by the Seventh Amendment’s guarantee of a jury trial.
The court agreed with other courts finding that both §§ 553 and 605 were analogous to common law torts of conversion and piracy, but found these comparisons strained and unnecessary in light of the “more important” constitutional inquiry – the nature of the remedy, whether legal or equitable.
The court noted a split on the issue, with some courts finding §553 and 605 provide restitution, an equitable remedy not triggering a right to jury trial, with other courts finding statutory damages to be compensatory and punitive – and thus legal in nature. The court concluded that §§ 553 and 605 are intended to punish and deter, and noted that in Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., 523 U.S. 340 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court found an analogous provision of the copyright statute to afford a legal remedy and, therefore, a jury trial.
For these reasons, the court held that a statutory damages suit pursuant to §§ 553 and 605 triggers a right to jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.
Capitol Records Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset, USDC D. Minnesota, November 4, 2010
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For the third time, a jury has awarded plaintiffs Capitol Records Inc. and five other record companies substantial damages after finding that defendant Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed plaintiffs’ copyrights by downloading 24 songs using the Kazaa peer-to-peer network.
- Jury awards damages to plaintiffs in the amount of $62,500 for each of 24 songs for a total amount of $1.5 million in copyright infringement action brought by record companies.
In October 2007, the jury awarded plaintiffs statutory damages in the amount of $9,250 for each song for a total of $222,000. The court vacated the verdict and granted a new trial after concluding that it erred in instructing the jury that making sound recordings available for distribution on a peer-to-peer network, regardless of whether actual distribution was shown, qualified as distribution under the Copyright Act. In June 2009, the jury returned a verdict finding that the defendant had willfully infringed all 24 sound recordings and, this time, awarded statutory damages in the amount of $80,000 per song, for a total verdict of nearly $2 million.
However, in January 2010, the court granted defendant’s motion for remittitur and ruled that the jury’s statutory damage award was “shocking and unjust.” The court offered the plaintiffs the option of accepting a reduced damage award of $54,000, or opting for a new trial on damages. The plaintiffs rejected the reduced damage award and, instead, asked for a new trial on damages. On November 4, the jury returned a verdict awarding statutory damages in the amount of $62,500 for each of 24 songs for a total amount of $1.5 million.
For more information, please contact Jonathan Zavin, W. Allan Edmiston, David Grossman, Jonathan Neil Strauss, Tal Dickstein or Meg Charendoff.
Westlaw decisions are reprinted with permission of Thomson/West. If you wish to check the currency of these cases, you may do so using KeyCite on Westlaw by visiting http://www.westlaw.com/.
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