Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Second Circuit copyright decision on statutory damages

The Second Circuit recently decided a case that raised the issue of how to count the number of statutory damage awards are available under section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act. In WB Music Corp. v. RTV Communications Group, Inc., No. 04-3890, 04-3892 & 04-3901 (2d Cir. Apr. 19, 2006), the defendant had sold seven CDs that infringed plaintiffs' copyrights in 13 songs. Section 504(c)(1) provides for one statutory damage award for each work that is infringed. The last sentence of section 504(c)(1) further provides that, for purposes of calculating statutory damages, all parts of a derivative work or compilation constitute one work.

The trial court thought that since the defendants' infringing CDs were compilations, that meant there were seven infringing works. The Second Circuit disagreed, holding that the last sentence refers to the copyrighted works, not the infringing works. Therefore, since the defendants infringed 13 different songs, they were on the hook for 13 statutory damage awards.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Coupla Trademark Decisions (1st and 5th Circuits)

The First and Fifth Circuit recently handed down trademark decisions.

In Borinquen Biscuit Corp. v. M.V. Trading Corp., No. 05-2591 (1st Cir. Apr. 4, 2006), the First Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against an accused infringer. In so doing, the court spent considerable time discussing the parties' respective burdens on the issue of the distinctiveness as to an unregistered, registered but not yet incontestable mark, and a registered and incontestable mark. In an interesting side issue, the defendant tried to show that the plaintiff's mark was weak because the PTO had issued several registrations including the mark. The First Circuit turned this against the defendant on the issue of whether the mark was inherently distinctive, observing that the PTO wouldn't have issued so many registrations for the mark without requiring 2(f) showings of secondary meaning if the mark wasn't inherently distinctive. I wouldn't have seen that boomerang effect coming, but now we're all forewarned (at least in the First Circuit).

In Icee Distributors Inc. v. J & J Snack Foods Corp., No. 04-30060 (5th Cir. Apr. 11, 2006), the Fifth Circuit rejected trademark infringement claims by one licensee against another licensee. Essentially, the court decided that the plaintiff licensee had no claim under the Lanham Act because the licensor (also a defendant) had validly licensed the defendant licensee. Since the licensor couldn't have sued the defendant licensee for infringement, neither could the other licensee, whose rights were only as great as the licensor's. There were also some other side issues in play, but that's the core trademark holding.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Seventh Circuit decision concerning Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

I know this isn't strictly trademark, copyright, or trade secret law, but the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. § 1030 et seq., does seem to pop up in many trade secret-related disputes I've worked on.

The Seventh Circuit issued a decision under the CFAA about a month ago that got me thinking about a potentially new way to use the CFAA. Before I get into the new way, the decision in International Airport Centers, L.L.C. v. Citrin, No. 05-1522 (7th Cir. March 8, 2006), primarily concerned whether the defendant in this civil case under the CFAA, who had intentionally erased important data from his company-issued laptop just before he got canned, had caused the "transmission" of a command or program that caused damage and whether he was "authorized" to have erased the data. (The data was important to the employer and it didn't have any copies of the data, and the ex-amployee, after deleting the critical information, then started up his own competing business.)

The district court had dismissed the case, but Judge Posner, writing for the panel, held that such conduct would violate the CFAA.

But this got me thinking about spoliation of evidence during the course of litigation. Normally, when that happens, lawyers tend to think of it in terms of discovery sanctions and "adverse inference" jury instructions. But if, during the course of litigation, someone is found to have intentionally deleted or erased relevant computer data, might that not fall under the CFAA? Section 1030(a)(5)(A)(i) prohibits the intentional transmission of a program or command that causes damage to the computer so long as he wasn't "authorized" to do so. Section 1030(a)(5)(A)(ii) & (iii) prohibit intentional access to a protected computer that recklessly causes damage, or just causes damage, all without "authorization."

So if under the Federal Rules governing discovery, a party has a duty not to destroy potentially relevant information, does that mean the party isn't "authorized" under the CFAA? That would look to be the key question. Further, if the adverse party needed to spend more than $5000 to retrieve (or try to retrieve) the data (whether lawyer time or computer forensics experts or whatever), the adverse party might even be able to amend his claims or counterclaims to assert a CFAA claim in that case, thus maximizing the chances that the jury or the judge gets to hear, in excruciating detail, about the evidence that was destroyed.

Is this a possibility? Anyone spot any bone-headed flaw in my thinking?