Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Intellectual Property
DAVID LOWERY, ET AL V. RHAPSODY INTERNATIONAL, INC.
Counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of copyright holders of musical compositions and recovered a little over $50,000 for the class members from Defendant Rhapsody International, Inc. (now rebranded as Napster), a music streaming service. The class members obtained no meaningful injunctive or nonmonetary relief in the settlement of their action. The district court nonetheless authorized $1.7 in attorneys’ fees under the “lodestar” method. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees to Plaintiffs’ counsel and remanded. The panel held that the touchstone for determining the reasonableness of attorneys’ fees in a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 is the benefit to the class. Here, the benefit was minimal. The panel held that the district court erred in failing to calculate the settlement’s actual benefit to the class members who submitted settlement claims, as opposed to a hypothetical $20 million cap agreed on by the parties. The panel held that district courts awarding attorneys’ fees in class actions under the Copyright Act must still generally consider the proportion between the award and the benefit to the class to ensure that the award is reasonable. The panel recognized that a fee award may exceed the monetary benefit provided to the class in certain copyright cases, such as when a copyright infringement litigation leads to substantial nonmonetary relief or provides a meaningful benefit to society, but this was not such a case. The panel instructed that, on remand, the district court should rigorously evaluate the actual benefit provided to the class and award reasonable attorneys’ fees considering that benefit. View "DAVID LOWERY, ET AL V. RHAPSODY INTERNATIONAL, INC." on Justia Law
Marshall v. Nat’l Football League
A class action complaint alleged that for many years the commercial filmmaking wing of the NFL used the names, images, likenesses, and identities of former NFL players in videos to generate revenue and promote the NFL. It asserted claims for false endorsement (Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125), common law and statutory rights of publicity claims under several states' laws, and unjust enrichment. The court approved a settlement calling for: creation of the Common Good Entity, a non-profit organization; payment of up to $42 million to the Common Good Entity over eight years; establishment of the Licensing Agency; payment of $100,000 worth of media value to the Licensing Agency each year until 2021; (5) Payment of attorneys' fees and settlement administration expenses; a reserve for the NFL's potential fees and costs involving class members who opt out; and class members' perpetual release of claims and publicity rights for the NFL and related entities to use. The Common Good Entity is "dedicated to supporting and promoting the health and welfare of Retired Players and other similarly situated individuals." Six players (the class had about 25,000 members) objected. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding the settlement fair, reasonable, and adequate despite not providing for a direct financial payment to each class member. View "Marshall v. Nat'l Football League" on Justia Law
In re: NCAA Licensing Litig.
Former starting quarterback for Arizona State University, Samuel Keller, filed a putative class action suit against EA, alleging that EA violated his right of publicity under California Civil Code 3344 and California common law by using Keller's likeness as part of the "NCAA Football" video game series. EA moved to strike the complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) under California's anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.16. The court concluded that EA could not prevail as a matter of law based on the transformative use defense where EA's use did not qualify for First Amendment protection because it literally recreated Keller in the very setting in which he had achieved renown. The court also concluded that, although there was some overlap between the transformative use test and the Rogers v. Grimaldi test, the Rogers test should not be imported wholesale to the right-of-publicity claims. Finally, the court concluded that state law defenses for reporting of information did not protect EA's use. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to strike the complaint. View "In re: NCAA Licensing Litig." on Justia Law
The Authors Guild Inc., et al. v. Google, Inc.
Plaintiffs, an association of authors and several individual authors, filed suit against Google alleging that it committed copyright infringement through the Library Project of its "Google Books" search tool by scanning and indexing more than 20 million books and making available for public display "snippets" of most books upon a user's search. On appeal, Google challenged the district court's grant of class certification. The court believed that the resolution of Google's fair use defense in the first instance would necessarily inform and perhaps moot the court's analysis of many class certification issues and that holding the issue of certification in abeyance until Google's fair use defense has been resolved would not prejudice the interests of either party. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to consider the fair use issues. View "The Authors Guild Inc., et al. v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law
In re Literary Works in Elec. Databases Litig.
Plaintiffs in this consolidated class action allege copyright infringements arising from defendant publishers' unauthorized electronic reproduction of plaintiff authors' written works. The district court certified a class for settlement purposes and approved a settlement agreement over the objection of ten class members (objectors). In this appeal, objectors challenged the propriety of the settlement's release provision, the certification of the class, and the process by which the district court reached its decisions. Although the court rejected the objectors' arguments regarding the release, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the class and approving the settlement because the named plaintiffs failed to adequately represent the interest of all class members. The court did not reach the procedural challenges, which were moot in light of the court's class certification holding. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded for further proceedings.