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McCaskill, et al. v. Ray

Plaintiff Lee McCaskill appealed the Southern District of Florida’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Margot Ray on McCaskill’s copyright infringement claim, as well as several other related clams, including false designation of origin and theft of trade secrets.

As to the copyright infringement claim, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff had a valid copyright and that the defendant admitted to using plaintiff’s documents. The Eleventh Circuit also agreed with the district court’s finding that the underlying facts in the plaintiff’s materials were not copyrightable but that the plaintiff’s independent choices as to selection and arrangement of the facts, or compilation of the facts, in a diet plan were copyrightable.

Where the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court erred was that the district court did not substantially analyze the similarity between the parties’ works. The district court did not believe that it was necessary to proceed with this comparison because the defendant did not dispute the “probative similarity” between her work and plaintiff’s work. Rather the district court focused on the differences between plaintiff’s work and a third party’s work. The district court reasoned that if the plaintiff had copied from the third party, then the defendant could copy the plaintiff’s works to the same extent and not be guilty of copyright infringement.

Disagreeing with the district court’s approach, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant on the plaintiff’s copyright claim because the plaintiff had established a prima facie case of copyright infringement which the defendant had failed to rebut. The Eleventh Circuit stated that the plaintiff established, and the district court found, that she had a valid copyright, that the defendant admitted to using the plaintiff’s works, that the defendant admitted to having access to plaintiff’s work and that the defendant’s diet instructions and menus, and other related materials were nearly identical to the plaintiff’s materials. Thus, because the plaintiff demonstrated that she owned a valid copyright and that the defendant had copied constituent elements of her copyrighted work, she established a prima facie case of copyright infringement. Therefore, the court found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for the defendant and vacated and remanded the issue to the district court.