Friday, April 08, 2011

Second Circuit: Fair Use Doctrine Protects Submission of Entire Copyrighted Work In Judicial Proceeding

In Hollander v. Steinberg, (10-1140 cv April 5, 2011), the Second Circuit applied the fair use doctrine, 17 USC 107 to filings in judicial proceedings. An author claimed that his essays were unpublished and that his adversary filing them in their entirety in a judicial proceeding was copyright infringement.

The decision is a "Summary Order" which under Second Circuit rules is not supposed to have any precedential value, but which may now be cited under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 and the Second Circuit's Local Rule 32.1.1.

A "Summary Order" is proper when the panel believes that a decison should have "no jurisprudential effect".  Issuance of summary orders is controversial, since our system of case law is based on precedent, not on the subjective belief of judges that their opinions ought to be ignored.

From the New York City Bar, full 1998 report criticizing a prior rule barring even citations to unpublished opinions that led to the currrent rule which permits parties to at least cite Summary Orders here:

The Federal Courts Committee believes that this complete prohibition on the citation of summary orders does not serve the interests of justice or judicial economy. The pervasive use of summary orders has created a vast body of unpublished decisions which are often pertinent to issues arising before the Court, but which cannot be brought to the Court's attention under the current rule. The Committee is aware of cases where the Court has previously ruled by summary order on the precise contention being made in a pending case, on indistinguishable facts, and of other cases where a summary order may be the only authority on point.


Of particular note in Hollander is that a copyright owner's market for a work would not be destroyed by publication of the work on the court's PACER system because retrieving it from PACER is cumbersome.

Finally, the fourth factor, “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work,” 17 U.S.C. § 107(4), clearly favors Steinberg. With this factor, “[t]he focus . . . is on whether defendants are offering a market substitute for the original.” NXIVM Corp. v. Ross Inst., 364 F.3d 471, 481 (2d Cir. 2004). “[O]ur concern is not whether the secondary use suppresses or even destroys the market for the original work or its potential derivatives, but whether the secondary use usurps the market of the original work.” Id. Should Den Hollander offer his essays for sale, it is highly unlikely that potentially interested readers would even be aware of the essays’ presence in a court file, let alone choose to acquire copies by the cumbersome methods of visiting a courthouse to make copies or using PACER. And in any event, Den Hollander has offered no evidence that Steinberg “usurped the market” for the essays by submitting them as exhibits in judicial proceedings.

So we have in Hollander a  fair use decision that the Second Circuit has decided should be ignored.

Decision below:

Hollander v Steinberg

More on the fair use doctrine here.

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3 comments:

David Sanger said...

Ray, Does that mean that a third party who downloads copyrighted material from a court filing on PACER, thereby making yet another copy, is not guilty of copyright infringement (assuming they do not further distribute it)?

Ray Dowd said...

David - The answer is yes. Court records may be copied by members of the public and indeed are copied repackaged and resold by companies like Westlaw. I am not offhand aware of a compant like West encountering problems with recopying embedded copyrighted works but have not dug into this. Ray

Anonymous said...

Ray, what do you think about patent applications that require disclosure of prior art, which could include published journal articles that are copyrighted? Would a person be guilty of copyright infringement for submitting to the PTO the statutorily required disclosures? Seems the court litigation submissions are analogous to the patent application requirements.