Paramount was handed a victory this week in its battle over who owns the domestic rights to the classic La Dolce Vita. “Partial summary judgment is granted in favor of Plaintiffs with respect to their First Claim for Relief because as a matter of undisputed fact and law, Defendant does not own, and at no time has owned, the United States copyright in the Film,” wrote federal Judge S. James Otero on Wednesday (read it here) in a rebuke to distributor International Media Films’ claim of chain of title. The case now heads to assessment of damages but the win for Paramount is clear though it took over a year and a half to get there. Paramount and affiliate Melange Pictures first filed suit against IMF in late November 2011, claiming that they had the copyright to the 1960 Federico Fellini film. In 2010, Paramount had received cease and desist letters from IMF when they re-released the film on its 50th anniversary theatrical and with new DVD and Blue-ray editions. IMF claimed they had the title of ownership to La Dolce Vita so this ended up in court. As these things do, it spent a few years being fought out. In April of this year, Paramount and Melange argued in front of the California-based district judge for their motion for summary judgement that IMF not …
UPDATE, 12:04 PM: The MPAA says that today’s Supreme Court decision “will hinder American businesses’ ability to compete overseas to the detriment of the long-term economic interests of the United States, and particularly its creative industries.” The trade group adds that it will “study the decision further before determining the most appropriate action for us to take.”
PREVIOUS, 9:55 AM: The 6-to-3 decision just handed a big defeat to the MPAA and other content providers by potentially undermining companies’ ability to charge different prices for books, CDs, DVDs, software, video games and other works in different countries. In the case, Kirtsaeng v John Wiley & Sons, entertainment companies sided with the book publisher against an entrepreneurial Thai college student studying in the U.S. Supap Kirtsaeng discovered that textbooks cost far less in Thailand than in the U.S. He turned that into a business, importing textbooks that he re-sold here for less than the publisher charged. Wiley said that violated its copyright; Kirtsaeng said it complied with the first-sale doctrine that enables people to freely re-sell content that they’ve bought. The MPAA and RIAA said in a brief supporting Wiley that extending the first-sale doctrine to works sold abroad “could impede authors’ ability to control entry into distinct markets, limit their flexibility to adapt to market conditions, or undermine territorial licensing agreements.”
“This is the most comprehensive effort to modernize our copyright laws in over a decade,” James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, said about the country’s controversial new Copyright Modernization Act. The new law — also known as Bill C-11 — aligns Canada more closely with the World Intellectual Property Organization. The country’s long reluctance to update its anti-piracy laws made it a regular on the U.S. Trade Representative’s annual Priority Watch List. In February the International Intellectual Property Alliance said that Canada’s effort to combat piracy “falls far short of what should be expected of our neighbor and largest trading partner, with ineffective border controls, insufficient enforcement resources, inadequate enforcement policies, and a seeming inability to impose deterrent penalties on pirates.” Canada’s new law includes a provision that the U.S. strongly supported that makes it illegal for consumers to break so-called digital locks, including copy protection mechanisms on CDs and DVDs. It also increased the penalties for infringment:
The 6-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision favors content owners including Hollywood studios over an unusual coalition of public interest and Internet activists including Google. At issue was whether the federal government had the right in 1994 to pass a law that extended copyright protection to works that were already in the public domain. Lawmakers acted to sync U.S. copyright law with other countries’ rules as part of a broad trade agreement known as the Uruguay Round. But the change meant that public groups lost access to works including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1932 film Number Seventeen, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” — and about 1 million books that Google said it wanted to make available online. Those challenging the change said that the government had trampled on the First Amendment without a compelling reason. But the Supreme Court justices deferred to Congress’ right to decide the national interest. The MPAA was pleased: The ruling “demonstrates that the United States fulfills its international copyright obligations and will remain a world leader in protecting creative works, thereby helping foster their continued creation and dissemination,” Chief Policy Advisor Fritz Attaway says.
The UK Supreme Court today upheld a 2009 appeals court ruling that Andrew Ainsworth, the engineer who designed the Imperial Stormtrooper helmets for George Lucas’ original Star Wars, didn’t violate British law by selling copies of the helmets. Lucasfilm had already won a $20 million judgment against Ainsworth and his Sheperton Design Studios in California back in 2006, arguing successfully that Lucas already had figured out the look of the helmets before coming to Ainsworth to design them. In the UK, Lucasfilm had to prove that the helmets were works of art to qualify for copyright protection under the law. “It was the Star Wars film that was the work of art that Mr. Lucas and his companies created,” the justices wrote. “The helmet was utilitarian, in the sense that it was an element in the process of production of the film.” Said Lucasfilm in a statement that the ruling “maintains an anomaly of British copyright law under which the creative and highly artistic works made for use in films — which are protected by the copyright laws of virtually every other country in the world — may not be entitled to copyright protection in the UK.”
Ahead of a House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday that will look at how to combat online IP theft, members of both the House and Senate talked today about the continuing harm the practice causes the U.S. economy. The reaffirmation was welcome news to Hollywood’s unions and guilds, who have long urged Washington to make tougher laws.