Sunday, February 18, 2007

Copyright Injunctions - Fruit of the Infringing Tree Doctrine (Ch 11)

Chapter 5 of 17 U.S.C. provides for remedies for victims of copyright infringement. Section 502 permits injunctions:

§ 502. Remedies for infringement: Injunctions
(a) Any court having jurisdiction of a civil action arising under this title may, subject to the provisions of section 1498 of title 28, grant temporary and final injunctions on such terms as it may deem reasonable to prevent or restrain infringement of a copyright.
(b) Any such injunction may be served anywhere in the United States on the person enjoined; it shall be operative throughout the United States and shall be enforceable, by proceedings in contempt or otherwise, by any United States court having jurisdiction of that person. The clerk of the court granting the injunction shall, when requested by any other court in which enforcement of the injunction is sought, transmit promptly to the other court a certified copy of all the papers in the case on file in such clerk’s office.

Although the statute appears to give courts wide discretion in determining what terms of an injunction are reasonable, courts have narrowly tailored the available relief. The majority view is set forth in Kepner-Tregoe, Inc. v. Leadership Software, 12 F.3d 527 (5th Cir. 1994). That case was a "reverse-engineering case" in which a substantially similar infringing copy of licensed materials was created by a licensee. Then the licensee "surgically removed" infringing portions. The district court found, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, that this "child of the infringement" could be enjoined from distribution because it still retained substantially similar selection and arrangement. But the Circuit court unequivocally struck down any attempts of the district court to enjoin future distribution of versions that might be non-infringing. A number of courts have struck down attempts to punish the infringer's "head start" gained by making infringing intermediate copies. See Alcatel USA, Inc. v. DGI Technologies, Inc., 166 F.3d 772 (5th Cir. 1999); Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. v. Connectix Corp., 203 F.3d 596 (9th Cir. 2000). The Fifth Circuit made clear in Kepner-Tregoe that even if a licensee breached a license agreement by engineering its own competing software, that portion of the license agreement forbidding such activity might be void because such contracts are preempted by the Copyright Act. 12 F.3d at 538 citing Vault Corp. v. Quaid Software Ltd., 847 F.2d 255, 268-70 (5th Cir. 1988). Overreaching with your copyright, such as using it to protect uncopyrightable devices, is "copyright misuse" and is grounds for striking down an injunction. See, e.g., Alcatel, supra.

A plaintiff may have success in getting courts to enjoin non-copyrightable benefits or "fruits" gained from its infringing actions. See, e.g., Epic Metals Corp. v. Souliere, 181 F.3d 1280 (11th Cir. 1999). However, the majority of cases reject this approach, particularly in the area of reverse engineering where an infringing copy was made to develop a competing product or compatible device. See, e.g., Kepner-Tregoe.

Practice Tip for Lawyers: In seeking an injunction, there is a temptation to ask for the moon. A narrowly-tailored request for relief that focuses on actual infringing activities and copies stands a greater likelihood of being granted. Overreaching, even where supported by contractual language may backfire and subject you to claims of copyright misuse, particularly where the contract contravenes the Copyright Act.

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