Category Archives: Copyright

Court-Ordered Restitution Vacated in Criminal Copyright Infringement Case, Based on Lack of Relevant Evidence

On November 9, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Cir.) vacated a district court’s decision to impose a restitution penalty against Defendant Gregory Fair (“Defendant Fair”) in favor of Adobe Systems in the amount of $734,098. U.S.A. v. Gregory William Fair, No. 09-3120, slip op. at 2 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 9, 2012) (appealing from Crim. A. No. 1:09-cr-00089-1 (D.D.C.)Pacer login required). The D.C. Circuit concluded that the district court had abused its discretion by awarding restitution, when the government failed to meet its burden to prove the amount of Adobe’s losses.
 

The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (18 U.S.C. § 3663A) (“MVRA”) – upon which this restitution award was based – provides that victims of certain crimes may be awarded restitution to compensate them for their actual losses that resulted from the defendant’s crime. In this case, however, the government only introduced evidence of what Defendant Fair’s actual sales were – and based its request for restitution on that amount. It did not introduce any evidence that Adobe Systems had lost sales as a result of this criminal activity, or that its sales were diverted to Defendant Fair.

Underlying Facts

Defendant Fair pled guilty to charges of criminal copyright infringement (18 U.S.C. § 2319, 17 U.S.C. § 506(a)(1)(a)) and mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341), after spending more than six years (Feb. 2001-Sept. 2007) selling counterfeit copies of outdated Adobe software and upgrade codes on eBay, which allowed his customers to obtain full copies of the current versions of these programs at a fraction of the regular price. Opinion at 3. “For example, a customer could first buy a pirated copy of outdated PageMaker software and an upgrade code from [Defendant] Fair for around $125 and then pay around $200 to Adobe Systems to upgrade to the most current version. The total price paid, around $325, would be less than half of the retail price of the authentic up-to-date Adobe program (approximately $700).” Id. at 2.

According to evidence presented at trial of the completed eBay transactions that filtered through PayPal, “[Defendant] Fair received, and he admitted receiving, approximately $1.4 million from his sales of pirated software on eBay.” Id. at 3. When Defendant Fair objected to the restitution claim, he initially sought a reduction to $455,000, the amount which he had actually withdrawn in currency from the PayPal account. Id.
   
Following the plea agreement, the district court sentenced Defendant Fair to 41 months’ imprisonment and three years’ supervised release – and ordered the $743,098.99 restitution payment to Adobe Systems (the balance of the amount identified on the government’s spreadsheet, less the $24,367 that the Postal Service had already released to Adobe Systems). Id. at 5.

Defendant Fair’s counsel argued that Adobe Systems was capable of distinguishing between its regular customers, and those who sought upgrades as a result of Defendant Fair’s scheme, and instead “chose as a ‘corporate strategy’ to permit [Defendant] Fair’s customers to purchase upgrades but to give no tech support to Fair’s software.” Id. at 5. This suggests two things: 1) that evidence of lost sales could have been available if the government requested it; and 2) that Defendant Fair may have had an argument that Adobe had acquiesced by its conduct (in part) to the so-called “criminal scheme.”

However, the government did not introduce any evidence that Adobe lost any sales due to Defendant Fair’s criminal activities. Instead, the government presented a spreadsheet tallying Defendant Fair’s eBay sales and “unsubstantiated, generalized assertions of government counsel regarding Adobe Systems’ lost sales.” Id. at 11. When presented with the opportunity to present such evidence, the government attorney attempted to shift the burden set forth in the MVRA to the defendant, arguing that because he “created an potential uncertainty in calculating pecuniary harm by selling outdated counterfeit software.” Id. at 12. The government also argued that the lost-profits rationale “makes no sense in the present context because Adobe Systems no longer sells the versions of the software that Fair sold.” Id. The appellate court was unpersuaded.  

On Appeal

The appellate court reviewed the record – and particularly the absence of any evidence of Adobe Systems’ actual losses, and agreed with the analysis of a Tenth Circuit opinion that commented, “we are very skeptical of the implicit suggestion that customers’ purchase of a certain number of copies of low-priced counterfeit software proves that those customers would have agreed to purchase the same number of copies from the legitimate seller for many times more.” Id. at 11 (quoting United States v. Hudson, 483 F.3d 707, 710 (10th Cir. 2009)) (internal quotations omitted). The Fair court also concluded that the government’s evidence in support of its claim for retribution was “merely speculative.” Id. at 12.

The appellate court also recognized that there were other avenues of recovery of restitution: specifically, under the “actual damages” provision for copyright infringement, the copyright owner can recover both actual damages and “any profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages.” 17 U.S.C. § 504(b). These damages were not claimed in this (criminal) case.

Finally, the appellate court also considered whether a remand of any degree was warranted in this case – and concluded that it was not. The appellate court declined to give the government “‘a second bite at the apple’ absent special circumstances,” especially in light of the fact that the government had the explicit opportunity to introduce this type of evidence, and had declined to do. Id. at 15-16.

In summary, it appears that the prison sentence (and 3 years of supervised release) remains, but that the award of restitution alone has been vacated.

Google and Publishers Reach Settlement Over Google Books Lawsuit

On October 4, 2012, Google and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced that the publisher plaintiffs and Google have reached a settlement of their dispute over Google’s mass copying and uploading of books (whether in the public domain or still protected by copyright) to which it had obtained access through agreements with several large libraries. These digitized books were then made available for searching and sometimes downloading (in whole or in part) through Google’s Library project. (The docket for the publisher’s lawsuit was The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. v. Google Inc., 05 Civ. 8881 (JES) (SDNY).)
 

(Details about the 2005 lawsuit and a proposed settlement that was rejected by the Court can be found in earlier posts.)

According to AAP, Google and the publishers agreed that “U.S. publishers can choose to make available or choose to remove their books and journals digitized by Google for its Library Project. Those deciding not to remove their works will have the option to receive a digital copy for their use.” Andi Sporkin, Association of American Publishers, Press Release (Oct. 4, 2012). Notwithstanding this agreement, U.S. publishers can continue to “make individual agreements with Google for use of their other digitally-scanned works.” Id.

The AFP reports that “publishers will have the option to allow Google to display portions or the entire book content, or to sell the work through Google Play.” Rob Lever, “Google, publishers end long-running copyright case,” AFP (Oct. 4, 2012). Users of the service, then, have the ability to browse up to 20% of books, and then purchase a digital copy through Google Play. Id.; Sorkin, Press Release

The remaining terms of the settlement remain confidential, but it appears that the ongoing litigation between Google and the Authors’s Guild (Authors Guild et al. v. Google Inc., No. 05-08136 (SDNY) (trial court); No. 12-2402 (2d Cir.) (on appeal)) is unaffected by this settlement. “‘The publishers’ private settlement, whatever its terms, does not resolve the authors’ copyright infringement claims against Google,’ the Authors Guild said in a statement Thursday. ‘Google continues to profit from its use of millions of copyright-protected books without regard to authors’ rights, and our class-action lawsuit on behalf of U.S. authors continues.'” Michael Liedtke (AP Technology Writer), “Google, publishers shelve book-scanning suit,” AP (Oct. 4, 2012). That lawsuit remains suspended, pending appeal by Google of the Court’s grant of class certification for the authors whose claims were raised in the complaint. Grant McCool, “Authors Guild v. Google Lawsuit In U.S. Suspended Pending Appeal,” Reuters (Sept. 17, 2012).

Copyright Office Seeks Additional Comments on Pursuing Small Copyright Claims

In a Federal Register notice issued on August 23, 2012, the U.S. Copyright Office requested additional comments about pursuing small copyright claims. Specifically, the Copyright Office is conducting a study to “assess whether and, if so, how the current legal system hinders or prevents copyright owners from pursuing claims that have a relatively small economic value and will discuss, with appropriate recommendations, potential changes in administrative, regulatory, and statutory authority.” Remedies for Small Copyright Claims: Additional Comments, 77 Fed. Reg. 51068 (Aug. 23, 2012) (the “Notice“). The Copyright Office also plans to hold two public meetings, one in New York on November 15 and the next in Los Angeles on November 16, after the comment period ends. Id.

The Copyright Office conducted a prior study (in 2011 – see comments received) and jointly participated with the USPTO in a roundtable discussion at George Washington University (in May 2012 – blog description). This time, however, the Copyright Office “seeks further input concerning how a copyright small claims system might be structured and function.” Id. at 51069. The study seeks information about the following topics:

  1. Nature of tribunal/process
  2. Voluntary versus mandatory participation
  3. Arbitration
  4. Mediation
  5. Settlement
  6. Location of tribunal(s)
  7. Qualifications and selection of adjudicators
  8. Eligible works
  9. Permissible claims
  10. Permissible claim amount
  11. Permissible defenses and counterclaims
  12. Registration (necessity of, prior to filing suit)
  13. Filing fee
  14. Initiation of proceeding
  15. Representation
  16. Conduct of proceedings
  17. Discovery, motion practice and evidence
  18. Damages
  19. Equitable relief
  20. Attorneys’ fees and costs
  21. Record of proceedings
  22. Effect of adjudication
  23. Enforceability of judgment
  24. Review/appeals
  25. Group claims
  26. Frivolous claims
  27. Constitutional issues (e.g., separation of powers, 7th Amendment right to trial by jury, personal jurisdiction, and due process)
  28. State court alternative
  29. Empirical data
  30. Funding considerations
  31. Evaluation of small claims systems
  32. Other issues
For more information and details about the categories into which the Copyright Office is investigating, please visit the official notice. The Copyright Office’s web site for the official comment form is here: http://www.copyright.gov/docs/smallclaims.

Google’s Request to Appeal Class Certification was Granted


On August 14, 2012, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted Google’s request for permission to appeal the Southern District of New York’s certification of two classes of plaintiffs in the Authors Guild v. Google case. (For prior blog posts about this case, click here.)

Pursuant to Rule 23(f), an appeal of class certification does not result in an automatic stay of the underlying case. Instead, either the order granting the appeal must specifically impose a stay (which this one does not) or the district court must affirmatively order a stay. As of this writing, the district court has not entered such an order.

The Second Circuit’s order granting the appeal was entered as Docket No. 1057 on the district court’s docket. (But, it does not yet appear in the Justia report – check Justia later, as it will probably be posted in due course.)

Court Certifies Certain Authors as a Class in Google Books Dispute


On May 31, 2012, Circuit Judge Denny Chin (now sitting on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals) entered an order certifying a class of authors to proceed in the case as a class. The Authors Guild et al. v. Google, Inc., No. 05 Civ. 8136, slip op. (May 31, 2012). In that case, two motions were decided: the first was Google’s motion to dismiss the association plaintiffs (i.e., The Authors Guild) alleging that they lacked standing to sue. The second was a motion for class certification filed by three representatives (individual members of the association) so that the case could proceed as a class, and that individual class plaintiffs did not need to prove their cases individually. 

In both cases, Google’s argument was the same: that individualized analysis of its “fair use” defense was required, thus rendering the Authors Guild unable to participate, and the individual class members unable to proceed as a group, sharing common interests. In both respects, the court was unpersuaded by Google’s arguments, and ruled against Google.

Motion to Dismiss Authors Guild Claims, Arguing Lack of Standing

In the context of its motion to dismiss, the Court found that “the associations’ claims of copyright infringement and requests for injunctive relief will not require the participation of each individual association member.” Id. at 11. Indeed, the Guild asserted copyright claims on behalf of its members, alleging very broadly that “Google engaged, and continues to engage, in the wholesale copying of books (including an images contained therein) without the consent of the copyright holders, many of whom are association members.” Id. at 12. The Authors Guild only sought injunctive relief (in other words, stop the copying and republishing) and declaratory relief (in other words, for a “declaration” that Google’s activities were unlawful). It is not seeking monetary damages. Notably, “Google does not deny that it copied millions of books – original works – without the permission of the copyright holders. Furthermore, it has displayed snippets of text from these books as well as images contained in the books, without the copyright holders’ permission.”
Id. at 13 (emphasis added).

When it argued that individual participation by association members would be required to respond to Google’s fair use analysis, Google focused on the requirement to prove “the nature of the copyrighted work” and “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” Id. at 15. Specifically, Google argued that the difference for fair use purposes between a non-fictional and a fictional work was critical, thus requiring individual proof of market impact. Id. The court was unpersuaded, concluding that it was possible to address these issues by grouping similar works together, thus creating subgroups. Id.

Importantly, the court noted that Google only objected to the Authors Guild’s participation in this case (which it originated seven years ago), was when it became apparent in 2011 that no settlement would be reached. Id. at 17.

The court’s most telling conclusion in this opinion is the following:

. . . [G]iven the sweeping and undiscriminating nature of Google’s unauthorized copying, it would be unjust to require that each affected association member litigate his claim individually. When Google copied works, it did not conduct an inquiry into the copyright ownership of each work; nor did it conduct an individualized evaluation as to whether posting “snippets” of a particular work would constitute “fair use.” It copied and made search results available en masse. Google cannot now turn the tables and ask the Court to require each copyright holder to come forward individually and assert rights in a separate action. Because Google treated the copyright holders as a group, the copyright holders should be able to litigate on a group basis.
 

Id. at 18 (emphasis added).

Motion for Class Certification

In similar fashion, the court discounted Google’s opposition to the motion for class certification filed by Authors Guild members seeking to participate in this case as representatives of a class. Id. at 18-25 (discussion of applicable precedent), 25-31 (application of precedent to the case at hand). Again Google argued that its fair use argument had to be considered as to each plaintiff, on an individual basis. It argued that “most [ ] class members perceive [Google’s copying of their work] as benefit.” Id. at 27. It also submitted the results of a survey it conducted in support of its argument that factual disputes among putative class members would make the class action process “not adequate” to handle this dispute, and therefore argued that class certification should be denied. Id.

This survey revealed that 58% of the authors surveyed (i.e., 500 authors) “approved” of Google’s scanning of their works for search purposes, and about 19% of those surveyed (about 170 authors) “feel that they benefit financially, or would benefit financially, from Google scanning their books and making snippets available in search.” Id.

The court did not discuss the basis for the survey, how the participants were selected, its statistical significance or what percentage of the total putative class was surveyed. Elsewhere in the opinion, however, the court reported the undisputed fact that Google has already scanned more than 12 million books. Id. at 2 (emphasis added). Leaving aside that many of these may be in the public domain, the court also noted that “millions of the books scanned by Google were still under copyright.”  Id. at 3 (emphasis added). Even if you assume that half of these books were written by authors who had written more than one book, 500 authors seems to be a very low sample on which to rely for a survey. (More details about the survey are likely continued in the declaration that Google submitted with the survey evidence, but I have not accessed it.)

Regardless, the court remained unpersuaded by Google’s survey evidence, calling it “without merit.” Pointedly, the court noted that Google had not identified any conflicts between the class members and the rest of the class and concluded that the fact that “some class members may prefer to leave the alleged violation of their rights unremedied is not as basis for finding the lead plaintiffs inadequate.” Id. 28. Indeed, any class member who feels that he or she does not want to participate in the class action may voluntarily exclude themselves by opting out.

Google’s final argument – that some of the publishing contracts which some of these authors may have signed create varying degrees and types of ownership – was similarly rejected. The court found that while these differences might exist, they did not predominate over the common issues shared by the putative class members. Id. at 31. In response to Google’s argument that the display of snippets of the copyrighted works were promotional use (a beneficial interest held by the publisher, not the author) would facilitate sales, the court noted the absence of any proof that such display actually facilitated sales and admonished, “while these authors may have authorized a publisher to promote their works, they have not authorized Google to do so.” Id.

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