Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. ComicMix LLC et al

Filing 187

ORDER(1) Denying 176 Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration and (2) Denying Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 176 , 177 ). Signed by Judge Janis L. Sammartino on 8/9/2021. (tcf)

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Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7988 Page 1 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 12 DR. SEUSS ENTERPRISES, L.P., a California limited partnership, 13 Case No.: 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) ORDER (1) DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION AND (2) DENYING PLAINTIFF’S RENEWED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Plaintiff, 14 v. 15 COMICMIX LLC, a Connecticut limited liability company; GLENN HAUMAN, an individual; DAVID JERROLD FRIEDMAN a/k/a DAVID GERROLD, an individual; and TY TEMPLETON, an individual, 16 17 18 19 (ECF Nos. 176, 177) Defendants. 20 21 22 Presently before the Court are Defendants ComicMix LLC, Glenn Hauman, David 23 Jerrold Friedman, and Ty Templeton’s (collectively, “ComicMix” or “Defendants”) 24 Motion for Reconsideration of Order Denying Motion for Issuance of Request to the 25 Register of Copyrights Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 411(b) (“Reconsid. Mot.,” ECF No. 177) 26 and Plaintiff Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.’s (“Seuss” or “Plaintiff”) Renewed Motion for 27 /// 28 /// 1 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7989 Page 2 of 24 1 Summary Judgment (“MSJ,” ECF No. 176). 1 Also before the Court are Seuss’s opposition 2 to the Reconsideration Motion (“Reconsid. Opp’n,” ECF No. 178), ComicMix’s reply in 3 support of the Reconsideration Motion (“Reconsid. Reply,” ECF No. 181), ComicMix’s 4 opposition to the MSJ (“MSJ Opp’n,” ECF No. 179), and Seuss’s reply in support of the 5 MSJ (“MSJ Reply,” ECF No. 180). The Court took both matters under submission without 6 oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). 7 considered the Parties’ arguments, the law, and the facts, the Court DENIES ComicMix’s 8 Reconsideration Motion and DENIES Seuss’s MSJ for the reasons set forth below. 9 10 See ECF No. 182. Having BACKGROUND I. Factual and Procedural Background 11 The Parties, who are intimately familiar with the facts of this case, do not submit 12 new Statements of Fact in support of or in opposition to Seuss’s MSJ. Rather, Seuss 13 “directs the Court to the Statement of Facts (‘SOF’) submitted in connection with its 14 original motion for summary judgment,” MSJ at 3 n.1 (citing ECF No. 107-2), and, other 15 than a brief, one-paragraph summary of the procedural history, ComicMix does not provide 16 any recitation of the facts, see MSJ Opp’n. Accordingly, the Court incorporates by 17 reference the factual and procedural background as set forth in its Order Granting 18 Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary 19 Judgment (“MSJ Order,” ECF No. 149 at 2–13) and its Order Denying Defendants’ Motion 20 for Issuance of Request to the Register of Copyrights (“Referral Order,” ECF No. 88 at 2– 21 3). 22 Seuss is the owner, by assignment, of the copyrights to the works of Theodor S. 23 Geisel, the author and illustrator of the books written under the pseudonym “Dr. Seuss.” 24 Pl.’s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Pl.’s MSJ (“SOF”), ECF No. 25 115-1, ¶¶ 1–4. Mr. Geisel wrote and illustrated the works at issue here: Oh, the Places 26 27 28 1 Seuss filed what appears to be a substantively identical motion earlier the same day, see ECF No. 175, which the Court DENIES AS MOOT in light of the second filing. 2 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7990 Page 3 of 24 1 You’ll Go! (“Go!”); How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (“Grinch”); and The Sneetches and 2 Other Stories (“Sneetches”) (collectively, the “Copyrighted Works”). SOF ¶¶ 2–7 3 In 2016, Defendants set out to create Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! (“Boldly!”). 4 Each of Mr. Templeton, Mr. Gerrold, and Mr. Hauman testified that he considered Boldly! 5 a parody, a mash-up, and a transformative work of the Copyrighted Works. See, e.g., 6 Declaration of Tamar E. Duvdevani in Support of Pl.’s MSJ (“Duvdevani Decl.”) Ex. 1, 7 ECF No. 107-23 at 120:14–23; Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 107-24, at 68:7–8, 77:19– 8 78; Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 3, ECF No. 107-25, at 75:23–76:11. However, each Defendant 9 also testified that he copied the Copyrighted Works to create Boldly!. SOF ¶¶ 33, 51–54, 10 56, 64. 11 After learning about Boldly!, Seuss sent ComicMix three letters, dated September 12 28, October 7, and October 25, 2016, demanding that ComicMix immediately cease all use 13 of the Copyrighted Works. SOF ¶¶ 103–05. Seuss also sent a DMCA takedown notice to 14 Kickstarter on October 7, 2016. Id. ¶ 68. ComicMix sent Seuss a responsive letter on 15 October 28, 2016, which refused Seuss’s demands. SOF ¶¶ 106–08. Seuss filed this 16 infringement action on November 10, 2016. ECF No. 1. 17 As relevant to the present motions, on December 22, 2017, ComicMix filed a motion 18 for issuance of a request to the Register of Copyrights pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(2), 19 on the basis that Mr. Geisel’s copyright registration applications for Go! and Sneetches 20 were knowingly and materially inaccurate and incomplete. See ECF No. 57. On May 21, 21 2018, the Court denied ComicMix’s motion. See generally Referral Order. In the Referral 22 Order, the Court concluded that neither of the copyright applications was based on 23 inaccurate information, as neither of the works in question contained a “substantial” 24 amount of the undisclosed previously published material, and accordingly the Court 25 declined to issue a request to the Register of Copyrights. See id. at 8–10. 26 On December 11, 2018, the Parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. See 27 ECF Nos. 107, 108. ComicMix sought summary judgment as to all of Seuss’s surviving 28 claims on the ground that ComicMix was entitled to summary adjudication on its 3 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7991 Page 4 of 24 1 affirmative defenses for fair use and the First Amendment. See generally ECF No. 108. 2 Seuss sought summary judgment of ComicMix’s willful copyright infringement. See 3 generally ECF No. 107. On March 12, 2019, the Court granted ComicMix’s motion as to 4 the copyright infringement claims, finding ComicMix was entitled to its fair use defense. 5 See MSJ Order at 33. ComicMix also sought summary judgment of the surviving 6 trademark infringement claims on the grounds that neither a stylized font nor an illustration 7 style is subject to trademark protection, and, even if they were, ComicMix’s use thereof 8 merits First Amendment protection under Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989). 9 See generally ECF No. 108. The Court agreed that an illustration style is not protectable, 10 see MSJ Order at 34, and that the “use of Seussian typefaces, not in conjunction with an 11 enforceable mark, cannot support a claim for violation of the Lanham Act.” Id. at 36–37. 12 Accordingly, the Court granted ComicMix’s motion as to the surviving trademark and 13 unfair competition claims. Id. at 35, 37. Given this disposition, the Court declined to 14 address the First Amendment issues. Id. at 37. Further, given the Court’s determination 15 that ComicMix was entitled to summary judgment on its fair use defense, the Court denied 16 Seuss’s cross-motion. Id. 17 On March 26, 2019, Seuss appealed the MSJ Order. See ECF No. 151. The Ninth 18 Circuit heard oral argument on Seuss’s appeal on April 27, 2020. See Dr. Seuss Enters., 19 L.P. v. ComicMix LLC, 983 F.3d 443, 443 (9th Cir. 2020). On December 18, 2020, the 20 Ninth Circuit issued its opinion affirming in part and reversing in part the MSJ Order. See 21 id. The Court held a mandate hearing on March 5, 2021, during which the Court set a 22 briefing schedule for any motions. See ECF No. 173. The present motions followed. 23 II. The Ninth Circuit’s Opinion 24 The Ninth Circuit reversed the Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of 25 ComicMix on the copyright infringement claim but affirmed the Court’s Rule 12(c) 26 dismissal and grant of summary judgment in favor of ComicMix on the trademark claim. 27 ComicMix, 983 F.3d at 448. 28 /// 4 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7992 Page 5 of 24 1 As relevant to the present motions, the Ninth Circuit concluded that each of the four 2 statutory fair use factors “decisively weigh[s] against ComicMix and no countervailing 3 copyright principles counsel otherwise.” Id. at 451. As to the first factor, the purpose and 4 character of the use, because Boldly! is “indisputably commercial” and not transformative, 5 the Ninth Circuit found that the first factor weighs against fair use. Id. at 451–52. The 6 Ninth Circuit concluded Boldly! is not a parody because it does not critique or comment 7 on the Copyrighted Works by, for example, holding Dr. Seuss’s style up to ridicule or 8 criticizing the “purported self-importance of [the Copyrighted Works’] characters.” Id. at 9 452–53. Nor does replacing Seuss characters and elements with Star Trek material render 10 the work transformative, as this replacement does not give Seuss’s work new purpose or 11 meaning. 12 paralleling the Copyrighted Works’ purpose. Id. at 453–55. Id. at 453. Boldly! lacks the benchmarks of transformative use, instead 13 As to the second factor, the nature of the copyrighted work, the Copyrighted Works 14 are creative and expressive works, which weighs against a finding of fair use. Id. at 456. 15 As to the third factor, the amount and substantiality of the portion of the copyrighted work 16 used, the quantitative amount of the Copyrighted Works taken by Boldly! “was 17 considerable,” id., with close replication of well-known and significant illustrations from 18 all of the Copyrighted Works and copying of 14 of Go!’s 24 pages, id. The Ninth Circuit 19 also found the qualitative value used by Boldly! to be “substantial,” as Boldly! “took the 20 heart of Dr. Seuss’s works” by, for example, taking the machine at the heart of Sneetches 21 and repurposing it as a Star Trek transporter. Id. at 457–58. 22 As to the fourth factor, the effect on the value or market for the copyrighted work, 23 the Ninth Circuit found that the Court erred in shifting the burden of showing market harm 24 to Seuss, resulting in a “skewed analysis” of this factor. Id. at 458. Weighing the factors, 25 the Ninth Circuit concluded that ComicMix could not sustain its fair use defense and that 26 this Court therefore erred in granting summary judgment in favor of ComicMix on the 27 copyright infringement claim. Id. at 461. 28 /// 5 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7993 Page 6 of 24 1 However, the Ninth Circuit affirmed that Seuss’s trademark infringement claim fails 2 as a matter of law. Id. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed and 3 remanded in part “for proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Id. at 463. 4 COMICMIX’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION 5 ComicMix argues for reconsideration of the Referral Order. The Parties disagree as 6 to the legal standard that applies to the motion. ComicMix argues that the Referral Order 7 was an interlocutory order, see Reconsid. Mot. at 7, and, because the Ninth Circuit reversed 8 in part the grant of summary judgment in ComicMix’s favor, the final judgment no longer 9 has effect and the order is once more interlocutory and subject to reconsideration, see id. 10 at 9 (citing Marketquest Grp., Inc. v. BIC Corp., No. 11-cv-0618-BAS-JLB, 2018 U.S. 11 Dist. LEXIS 62359, at *9 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 12, 2018)). Thus, ComicMix argues for 12 reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) based on an alleged significant 13 change in controlling Ninth Circuit law as articulated in Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes 14 & Mauritz, L.P., 959 F.3d 1194 (9th Cir. 2020) [hereinafter Unicolors]. See Reconsid. 15 Mot. at 2–3. Seuss argues that the Referral Order merged into the Court’s final judgment, 16 and the Ninth Circuit’s reversal did not affect the Referral Order; therefore, ComicMix’s 17 Reconsideration Motion must be adjudicated under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), 18 which governs the reopening and reconsideration of final judgments. Reconsid. Opp’n at 19 6. 20 The Court finds it unnecessary to determine which standard applies, as ultimately, 21 under either standard, the Court would have to find that the Ninth Circuit’s decision in 22 Unicolors was a change in controlling law necessitating the revisiting of the Referral Order. 23 The Court finds that it is not, and therefore reconsideration under any basis is improper. 24 I. Summary of Unicolors 25 In Unicolors, a jury had decided that the defendant, a clothing retailer, had infringed 26 the copyright of the plaintiff, a company that creates textile and garment designs, by selling 27 clothing with designs similar to the plaintiff’s copyrighted design. 959 F.3d at 1195. The 28 plaintiff had applied for and received the copyright registration at issue in February 2011. 6 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7994 Page 7 of 24 1 Id. at 1196. The registration was a “single-unit registration” of thirty-one designs, one of 2 which was the allegedly infringed design. Id. Twenty-two of the designs covered by the 3 registration, including the allegedly infringed design, bore the prefix “EH,” which meant 4 they had been created in January 2011; the remaining nine bore the prefix “CEH,” which 5 meant they were “confined” works designed in January 2011. 6 “confined” works were created for specific customers, who would receive exclusive use 7 for several months. Id. The copyright registration indicated that all thirty-one designs had 8 a January 15, 2011 date of first publication. Id. Id. The plaintiff’s 9 The defendant appealed the judgment against it, arguing that the copyright 10 registration covering the design in question was invalid due to the inclusion of known 11 inaccuracies in the registration application. Id. at 1197. Specifically, the defendant argued 12 that the designs were improperly registered as a “single unit” because they were not first 13 sold or offered for sale in an integrated manner, given that some of the works were 14 displayed publicly in the plaintiff’s showroom and others were “confined” works sold 15 separately and exclusively to individual customers. Id. at 1197–98. When presented with 16 this issue, the district court had found against the defendant for two reasons. Id. at 1198. 17 First, the district court had held that invalidation required a showing that the plaintiff had 18 intended to defraud the Copyright Office, and no evidence of such an intent had been 19 introduced. Id. Second, the district court found that all thirty-one designs were first 20 “published” and made available to the public on the same day. Id. 21 The Ninth Circuit found that the district court was wrong on both counts. Id. The 22 Ninth Circuit acknowledged that its prior case law implied an intent-to-defraud 23 requirement but noted that its recent decision in Gold Value International Textile, Inc. v. 24 Sanctuary Clothing, LLC, 925 F.3d 1140, 1147 (9th Cir. 2019), clarified that no such 25 requirement exists. 959 F.3d at 1198. The Ninth Circuit further held that a “single unit” 26 registration requires that the collection of works first first published as a single, bundled 27 collection; because the “confined” designs were not placed in the showroom for sale at the 28 same time as the other designs, they were not “published” on the same date. Id. at 1198– 7 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7995 Page 8 of 24 1 200. The Ninth Circuit further reasoned that the plaintiff knew that some of the designs on 2 the registration were “confined” and therefore published separately to exclusive customers, 3 satisfying the knowledge requirement of section 411(b). Id. at 1200. The Ninth Circuit 4 therefore reversed the district court’s entry of judgment in favor of the plaintiff and 5 remanded to the district court to submit an inquiry to the Register of Copyrights. Id. at 6 1200–01. 7 II. Summary of the Parties’ Positions 8 ComicMix argues that Unicolors, which was decided after oral argument was held 9 on Seuss’s appeal in this case, see Reconsid. Mot. at 3, is an intervening change in 10 controlling law, see id. at 9. ComicMix argues that Unicolors “changed the nature of how 11 courts in this Circuit are required to address such § 411(b) requests” by clarifying that 12 “§ 411 is mandatory by its express terms.” Id. at 9. ComicMix relies on following 13 language in Unicolors in making this argument: 14 In practice, once a defendant alleges that (1) a plaintiff’s certificate of registration contains inaccurate information; (2) “the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration”; and (3) the inaccurate information was included on the application “with knowledge that it was inaccurate,” a district court is then required to submit a request to the Register of Copyrights “to advise the court whether the inaccurate information, if known, would have caused [it] to refuse registration.” [17 U.S.C.] § 411(b)(1)–(2). In other words, courts may not consider in the first instance whether the Register of Copyrights would have refused registration due to the inclusion of known inaccuracies in a registration application. 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 959 F.3d at 1197. ComicMix further argues that the intent-to-defraud requirement was 24 “unclear” at the time this Court issued its order on the Referral Motion, and that “Unicolors 25 further clarifies” this issue. Reconsid. Mot. at 10. ComicMix argues that, “[b]ecause the 26 Court exercised its discretion rather than first soliciting and obtaining the Register of 27 Copyrights’ opinion,” the Referral Order must be altered under Unicolors. Id. at 11. 28 /// 8 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7996 Page 9 of 24 1 Seuss argues that Unicolors is not an intervening change in controlling law because 2 it “did not disapprove of, much less change, long-standing precedent permitting district 3 courts to weed out meritless 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(2) motions by initially determining 4 whether an [sic] copyright application actually contains an inaccuracy known to the 5 applicant and denying motions where no such inaccuracy is present.” Reconsid. Opp’n at 6 9. Because this Court followed that long-standing procedure in denying the Referral 7 Motion, reconsideration is not necessary. Id. In support of its position, Seuss cites to 8 Roxana Towry Russell v. Walmart Incorporated, No. CV 19-5495-MWF (JCX), 2020 WL 9 9073046, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 2020), a case post-dating Unicolors in which “Walmart 10 argued that because it has alleged that Plaintiff submitted inaccurate information in her 11 copyright registration applications, the Court has no discretion to deny its Remand Motion 12 and must refer the matter to the Register of Copyrights,” but the district court disagreed. 13 2020 WL 9073046, at *4. The court noted that “[r]ecent Ninth Circuit case law is 14 consistent with this gatekeeping procedure,” and Unicolors only remanded with 15 instructions to submit an inquiry to the Register of Copyrights “after finding that the 16 application contained ‘known inaccuracies.’” Id. at *5 (citation omitted). 17 On reply, ComicMix contends that there was no Ninth Circuit law interpreting 18 section 411(b) until Gold Value in 2019, which held that a showing of fraud is not required, 19 and that Unicolors subsequently made clear that a defendant need only “allege” 20 inaccuracies in the application, not “prove” them. Reconsid. Reply at 4–5 (citations 21 omitted). ComicMix cites to two post-Unicolors district court cases for its position: 22 Yellowcake, Inc. v. Morena Music, Inc., No. 1:20-cv-0787 AWI BAM, 2021 WL 795823 23 (E.D. Cal. May 5, 2021); and Fashion Ave. Sweater Kniths, LLC v. Poof Apparel Corp., 24 No. 2:19-cv-06302-CJC-JEM, 2020 WL 7861970 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 3, 2020). Id. at 5. 25 III. Analysis 26 The Court agrees with Seuss’s interpretation of Unicolors and the extent to which it 27 changed—or rather, failed to change—Ninth Circuit law. Although Unicolors would have 28 been an intervening change in controlling law were the question of “what it means to 9 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7997 Page 10 of 24 1 publish multiple works as a ‘single unit’” at issue, 959 F.3d at 1199 (footnote omitted) 2 (noting that “this court has never previously addressed [this question]”), there was no 3 change in controlling law with regard to the issues raised by ComicMix, see Teamsters 4 Loc. 617 Pension & Welfare Funds v. Apollo Grp., Inc., 282 F.R.D. 216, 224 (D. Ariz. 5 2012) (explaining that, in the context of Rule 59(e), “cases which generally or substantively 6 alter existing law, such as by overruling it, or creating a significant shift in a court’s 7 analysis,” are intervening changes in law warranting relief, whereas “cases which merely 8 confirm, clarify or explain existing case law do not provide a basis for relief”). 9 The section of Unicolors ComicMix contends is a change in how courts are required 10 to address section 411(b) requests is nothing more than a brief summary of the already 11 existing law in the Ninth Circuit. Further, Unicolors does not itself change the law 12 concerning intent-to-defraud, but merely confirms the prior clarification of the standard 13 contained in Gold Value. At any rate, this Court’s Referral Order never addressed the 14 intent-to-defraud issue in light of its finding that there were no known inaccuracies in 15 Seuss’s copyright applications and registrations. See generally Referral Order. Thus, the 16 alleged statements of new controlling law cited by ComicMix are merely restatements or 17 clarifications of existing law that neither necessitate nor permit this Court’s revisiting of 18 the Referral Order. 19 The cases on which ComicMix relies on reply are not persuasive in arguing the 20 contrary. In Yellowcake, the court cited to the same statement of the legal standard from 21 Unicolors on which ComicMix relies, but ultimately the court ended up seeking 22 supplemental briefing on the invalidity issue where the authorship information in judicially 23 noticed registration documents was inconsistent with the ownership interest claimed in a 24 counterclaim, in which case “[t]he Counterclaim therefore indicates that the registrations 25 contain incorrect information in terms of authorship.” 2021 WL 795823, at *19. That the 26 court ordered supplemental briefing, rather than simply accepting the allegation of 27 inaccurate information, supports the view that Unicolors does not mandate that a court 28 refer all requests made under section 411(b) to the Register of Copyrights. Indeed, the 10 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7998 Page 11 of 24 1 Court was explicit that, “[i]f, after reviewing the supplemental information, the Court is 2 satisfied that there is inaccurate information that is part of the registrations and that was 3 included in the applications to the Copyright Office, the Court will send an inquiry as 4 required by § 411/Unicolors.” Id. 5 Similarly, the court in Fashion Avenue did not simply accept at face value allegations 6 of inaccurate information in referring a validity issue to the Register of Copyrights. As the 7 earlier decision actually electing to refer the issue to the Register of Copyrights makes 8 clear, both allegations in the complaint and evidence presented by the defendants tended 9 to show that the designs at issue were published before registration, raising a genuine issue 10 as to the copyright’s validity. See Fashion Ave. Sweater Knits, LLC v. Poof Apparel Corp., 11 No. CV1906302CJCJEMX, 2020 WL 7862132, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 28, 2020). Thus, 12 both Yellowcake and Fashion Avenue suggest that the district court’s gatekeeping function 13 under section 411(b) remains intact post-Unicolors, as the district court in Russell explicitly 14 held. Accordingly, the Court DENIES ComicMix’s Reconsideration Motion. 15 16 SEUSS’S RENEWED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT I. Legal Standards 17 A. 18 Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a party may move for summary 19 judgment as to a claim or defense or part of a claim or defense. Summary judgment is 20 appropriate where the Court is satisfied that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material 21 fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); 22 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect 23 the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A 24 genuine dispute of material fact exists only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury 25 could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. When the Court considers the 26 evidence presented by the parties, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and 27 all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. 28 /// Summary Judgment 11 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.7999 Page 12 of 24 1 The initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact falls 2 on the moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party may meet this burden 3 by identifying the “portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and 4 admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’” that show an absence of dispute 5 regarding a material fact. Id. When a plaintiff seeks summary judgment as to an element 6 for which it bears the burden of proof, “it must come forward with evidence which would 7 entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.” C.A.R. Transp. 8 Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Houghton 9 v. South, 965 F.2d 1532, 1536 (9th Cir. 1992)). 10 Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, the nonmoving party must 11 identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. 12 at 324. This requires “more than simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt 13 as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 14 586 (1986). Rather, to survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “by her own 15 affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,’ 16 designate ‘specific facts’” that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for 17 the non-moving party. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The non- 18 moving party cannot oppose a properly supported summary judgment motion by “rest[ing] 19 on mere allegations or denials of his pleadings.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. 20 B. 21 “A plaintiff bringing a claim for copyright infringement must demonstrate ‘(1) 22 ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that 23 are original.’” Funky Films, Inc. v. Time Warner Entm’t Co., L.P., 462 F.3d 1072, 1076 24 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Feist Pubs., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991)). 25 A “copyright registration creates a presumption of ownership.” Micro Star v. 26 Formgen Inc., 154 F.3d 1107, 1110 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Triad Sys. Corp. v. Se. Express 27 Co., 64 F.3d 1330, 1335 (9th Cir. 1995)). “To rebut the presumption [of validity], an 28 infringement defendant must simply offer some evidence or proof to dispute or deny the Copyright Infringement 12 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8000 Page 13 of 24 1 plaintiff’s prima facie case of infringement.” United Fabrics Int’l, Inc. v. C&J Wear, Inc., 2 630 F.3d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Seattle Lighting Fixture 3 Co., 345 F.3d 1140, 1144 (9th Cir. 2003)) (internal quotation marks omitted). 4 “The second prong of the infringement analysis contains two separate components: 5 ‘copying’ and ‘unlawful appropriation.’” Skidmore as Tr. for Randy Craig Wolfe Tr. v. 6 Led Zeppelin, 952 F.3d 1051, 1064 (9th Cir. 2020) (citation omitted). To establish copying, 7 the plaintiff can rely on direct evidence of copying or can show either: “(1) the two works 8 in question are substantially similar and the defendant had access to the subject work; or 9 (2) that the works are strikingly similar.” Corbello v. Valli, 974 F.3d 965, 973 (9th Cir. 10 2020) (citation omitted); Malibu Textiles, Inc. v. Label Lane Int’l, Inc., 922 F.3d 946, 952 11 (9th Cir. 2019) (citations omitted). “On the other hand, the hallmark of ‘unlawful 12 appropriation’ is that the works share substantial similarities.” Skidmore, 952 F.3d at 1064 13 (citing Newton v. Diamond, 388 F.3d 1189, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004)) (emphasis in original). 14 “In assessing whether particular works are substantially similar, or strikingly similar, 15 this Circuit applies a two-part analysis: the extrinsic test and the intrinsic test.” Unicolors, 16 Inc. v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., 853 F.3d 980, 985 (9th Cir. 2017). “The extrinsic test 17 requires plaintiffs to show overlap of concrete elements based on objective criteria.” Id. 18 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “The extrinsic test requires a three-step 19 analysis: (1) the plaintiff identifies similarities between the copyrighted work and the 20 accused work; (2) of those similarities, the court disregards any that are based on 21 unprotectable material or authorized use; and (3) the court must determine the scope of 22 protection (“thick” or “thin”) to which the remainder is entitled ‘as a whole.’” Corbello, 23 974 F.3d at 974 (citation omitted). 24 “Only if the extrinsic analysis succeeds does the so-called ‘intrinsic’ analysis takes 25 place.” Id. (citation omitted). “[T]he intrinsic test is subjective and asks whether the 26 ordinary, reasonable person would find the total concept and feel of the works to be 27 substantially similar.” Urban Outfitters, 853 F.3d at 985 (internal quotation marks and 28 citations omitted). When it comes to applying the intrinsic test, “a district court may grant 13 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8001 Page 14 of 24 1 summary judgment for plaintiffs on the issue of copying when the works are so 2 overwhelmingly similar that the possibility of independent creation is precluded.” Id. at 3 987. 4 II. Analysis 5 A. 6 Seuss seeks summary judgment of willful copyright infringement against ComicMix 7 and an award of heightened statutory damages. MSJ at 7. As to the first element of 8 copyright infringement, Seuss argues that the Court previously determined that Seuss’s 9 copyright registrations were valid, and ComicMix did not cross-appeal that decision; 10 accordingly, ComicMix cannot now attack the validity of Seuss’s copyrights. Id. at 8. As 11 to the second element, Seuss claims that ComicMix “did not deny” that Boldly! copied 12 directly and extensively from the copyrighted works in question and is substantially similar 13 to protected elements in those works; rather, “[ComicMix] argued only that their extensive 14 copying was fair use and therefore not infringing.” Id. (citing ECF No. 120 at 15–25). 15 Given that the Ninth Circuit’s opinion eliminated the issue of fair use, no other defenses 16 remain. Id. Seuss further argues that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, which found substantial 17 and significant copying, requires the Court to find that substantial similarity has been 18 established as a matter of law. Id. at 8–9. Seuss further claims that the undisputed evidence 19 establishes that ComicMix acted with at least reckless disregard to Boldly!’s infringement, 20 and therefore the Court should find ComicMix’s infringement willful. Id. at 9–15. Seuss 21 argues that increased statutory damages of $75,000 per work is appropriate as a result. Id. 22 at 15–20. Summary of the Parties’ Positions 23 ComicMix opposes, claiming that its pleaded defenses of invalidity as to the 24 copyrights for Go! and Sneetches and de minimis use as to Sneetches and Grinch require 25 denial of Seuss’s MSJ. MSJ Opp’n at 3. ComicMix reiterates the arguments made in its 26 Reconsideration Motion in arguing that the copyright registrations at issue are invalid, thus 27 requiring referral to the Register of Copyrights before the merits of the claims related to 28 Go! and Sneetches can be resolved. Id. at 4–5. ComicMix further argues that Seuss fails 14 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8002 Page 15 of 24 1 to meet its burden to establish that Boldly! is substantially similar to each of the 2 Copyrighted Works, arguing that Boldly!’s use of only two illustrations from Sneetches 3 and one from Grinch, without copying any text from either book, is de minimis. Id. at 5– 4 9. ComicMix argues that, because each Copyrighted Work is subject to a viable defense, 5 assessing damages at this point is premature. Id. at 9. To the extent the Court finds 6 otherwise, ComicMix argues that Seuss fails to meet its burden of proving willfulness and 7 that factual disputes preclude summary judgment. Id. at 9–15. Should the Court reach the 8 issue of damages, ComicMix urges the Court to find that any infringement was innocent, 9 id. at 15–16, and to award only the statutory minimum in damages, id. at 16–18. 10 On reply, Seuss argues that ComicMix’s de minimis use defense was abandoned by 11 ComicMix’s failure to raise it at summary judgment; at summary judgment, ComicMix 12 instead contradicted its de minimis use defense by conceding that there could not be fair 13 use unless there was a substantial use. MSJ Reply at 2–3 (citations omitted). Further, 14 Seuss claims that “the Ninth Circuit’s findings that Defendants’ takings of copyrighted 15 material were substantial are incorporated in its mandate and foreclose any argument that 16 Defendants’ infringement of Sneetches and Grinch was de minimis” under the “spirit of the 17 mandate.” Id. at 3–4 (citing United States v. Montgomery, 462 F.3d 1067, 1072 (9th Cir. 18 2006)). Even if the Court were to consider the defense, Seuss claims it lacks merit, as “[a]n 19 average viewer undoubtedly would recognize the appropriation.” Id. at 4. Seuss further 20 urges that ComicMix’s infringement is clearly willful. First, given that the Copyrighted 21 Works carry clear copyright notices, Seuss argues that ComicMix is precluded from 22 claiming innocent infringement. Id. at 6 (citation omitted). Further, Seuss claims that the 23 evidence clearly establishes “[ComicMix’s] reckless conduct,” id. at 7, and ComicMix’s 24 failure to seek legal counsel, while “highly probative of willfulness,” “is only one of many 25 indications of willful conduct,” id. at 8. Finally, Seuss concedes to a jury trial on the 26 amount of statutory damages to be awarded. Id. at 10. 27 /// 28 /// 15 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8003 Page 16 of 24 1 B. 2 As to the issue of ownership of valid copyrights, Seuss has submitted copies of the 3 copyright registrations for each of the Copyrighted Works as well as the documentation 4 establishing the assignment of the relevant copyrights to Seuss. See Declaration of Susan 5 Brandt in Support of Pl.’s MSJ (“Brandt Decl.”) Exs. 1–18, ECF Nos. 107-4–21. 6 Accordingly, “Plaintiff has ‘shift[ed] to defendant the burden to prove the invalidity of the 7 copyright[].’” L.A. Printex Indus., Inc. v. Lia Lee, Inc., No. CV 08-1836ODW(PJWX), 8 2009 WL 789877, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2009) (quoting Entm’t Research Grp. v. 9 Genesis Creative Grp., Inc., 122 F.3d 1211, 1217 (9th Cir. 1997)). ComicMix, however, 10 has failed to carry its burden. Although ComicMix argues that the copyright registrations 11 for Sneetches and Go! are invalid, and therefore fail to satisfy the Copyright Act’s 12 registration requirement, due to the inclusion of knowingly inaccurate information in the 13 copyright applications, see generally Reconsid. Mot., for the reasons provided supra at 5– 14 11, the Court declines to revisit this issue. Thus, “the presumption of validity afforded to 15 [Seuss]’s copyright certificates remains intact,” and “[Seuss] is therefore deemed to own 16 valid copyrights in the designs at issue.” L.A. Printex Indus., Inc., 2009 WL 789877, at *3. 17 As to the issue of copying, Plaintiffs have introduced evidence of direct copying of 18 each of the Copyrighted Works. Specifically, Mr. Hauman sent Mr. Gerrold the text and a 19 PDF scan of Go!, Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 107-24, at 90:8–95:30, and Mr. Gerrold 20 acknowledged that he had a copy of Go! that he “flipped through . . . to see what the style 21 of the mood was” “[s]omewhere in the process of writing the verses” of Boldly!, id. at 22 89:20–90:7. Similarly, Mr. Templeton testified that he had a copy of Go! in front of him 23 from which he copied while working on the illustrations for Boldly!, including Boldly!’s 24 cover and many pages throughout the book. See, e.g., Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 25 107-23, at 110:2–12, 123:9–124:11, 125:10–126:1, 133:20–134:18, 141:10–144:7, 26 146:12–25, 150:24–152:2, 152:23–154:7, 155:23–157:25, 161:17–165:12, 173:9–174:7, 27 175:24–176:24; compare Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 9, ECF No. 115-3, at 240–41, 243, 245–46, 28 248, 251–53, 255, 257–58, with Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 31, ECF No. 115-11, at 452–53, 455, Copyright Infringement 16 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8004 Page 17 of 24 1 457, 459, 461–62, 464–66, 469–70. Mr. Templeton admitted that he “painstakingly” 2 copied from page 11 of Sneetches when illustrating a page of Boldly!, from the shape of 3 and crosshatching and lettering on the machine to the poses of the characters. Duvdevani 4 Decl. Ex. 1 at 166:13–170:13; compare Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 11, ECF No. 115-5, at 303, 5 with Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 31 at 467. For one page of Boldly!, Mr. Templeton explained 6 that “the characters from the Star Trek universe are posed in the positions that the Whos 7 from Whoville are posed in How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “there is a set of red 8 lines emanating from above them that are meant to feel similar to the red lines in the 9 drawing” from Grinch. Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 1 at 137:19–138:3; compare Duvdevani Decl. 10 Ex. 10, ECF No. 115-4, at 273, with Duvdevani Decl. Ex. 31 at 456. Indeed, the Ninth 11 Circuit’s Opinion notes that “ComicMix does not dispute that it tried to copy portions of 12 Go! as accurately as possible.” 983 F.3d at 450. Given this evidence, it is clear that 13 Defendants directly copied protected elements from Plaintiff’s copyrighted works. See, 14 e.g., Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., 924 F. Supp. 1559, 1564–65 15 (S.D. Cal. 1996), aff’d, 109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997) (finding admissions that illustrations 16 “were inspired by” and text “dr[awn] from” copyrighted texts “probably sufficient to 17 permit a jury finding that protected elements of Dr. Seuss’s text and illustrations found in 18 Penguin’s book got there through copying and not coincidence”) (footnote omitted). 19 The Court therefore turns to the question of unlawful appropriation—in other words, 20 whether Boldly! and the Copyrighted Works share “substantial similarities.” As an initial 21 matter, the Court notes that it is somewhat rare for the plaintiff copyright holder 22 affirmatively to move for summary judgment of infringement and for such a motion to be 23 granted. The Ninth Circuit has held that “a district court may grant summary judgment for 24 plaintiffs on the issue of copying when the works are so overwhelmingly similar that the 25 possibility of independent creation is precluded.” Urban Outfitters, 853 F.3d at 987. 26 However, historically, the cases in which such “overwhelming similarity” has been found 27 are exceedingly limited. 28 /// 17 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8005 Page 18 of 24 1 Urban Outfitters, for instance, involved textile designs that were “nearly identical.” 2 Id. at 985–87. So, too, with Neman Brothers & Associates, Inc. v. One Step Up Limited, 3 No. CV184297DMGAGRX, 2019 WL 8129616, at *10 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 25, 2019); 4 Texkhan, Incorporated v. One Step Up, Limited, No. CV 16-606 DMG (FFMX), 2017 WL 5 8231368, at *6 (C.D. Cal. July 19, 2017); Gracing Incorporated v. E.K. Blue, Incorporated, 6 No. CV 16-5107 MWF (SS), 2017 WL 5640516, at *2–3 (C.D. Cal. June 28, 2017); and 7 Spectravest, Incorporated v. Mervyn’s Incorporated, 673 F. Supp. 1486, 1491–92 (N.D. 8 Cal. 1987), all dealing with fabric or apparel designs that were overwhelmingly similar 9 with “minimal” differences. In Marcus v. Rowley, the Ninth Circuit reversed a district 10 court’s determination of fair use and ordered entry of summary judgment in favor of the 11 plaintiff with regard to a copyrighted booklet about cake design where “[d]efendant’s 12 [infringing work] could have been a photocopy of plaintiff’s booklet but for the fact that 13 defendant retyped plaintiff’s material.” 695 F.2d 1171, 1177–79 (9th Cir. 1983). In so 14 doing, the Ninth Circuit concluded that “[t]his case presents a clear example of both 15 substantial quantitative and qualitative copying.” Id. at 1177. And, in Applied Business 16 Software, Incorporated v. Citadel Servicing Corporation, No. SACV1701627CJCJDEX, 17 2019 WL 1949455, at *11 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 26, 2019), the district court granted partial 18 summary judgment on the issue of copyright infringement and found the copying in 19 question “substantial” where the defendant copied the entirety of the copyrighted program 20 onto more than twenty computers in contravention of the explicit terms of a license 21 agreement. Accordingly, as summarized by one commentator: 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 A plaintiff seeking summary judgment for substantial similarity will have to show, in most cases, that the defendant’s work is nearly identical to his or that some unusual circumstance conclusively demonstrates copying. Summary judgment is infrequently granted to plaintiffs on this issue. Most cases involve non-literary works: toys, cartoon characters, wall plaques, video games, maps, fabrics, designs on clothing, magazine covers, auto parts containers, photographs, and computer software. In each instance, the defendant had either substantially appropriated the plaintiff’s work or had reproduced 18 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8006 Page 19 of 24 1 it with minor alterations, such as the removal of the plaintiff’s name and copyright notice. 2 3 Julie J. Bisceglia, Summary Judgment on Substantial Similarity in Copyright Actions, 16 4 Hastings Comm. & Ent L.J. 51, 56–57 (1993) (footnotes omitted). 5 1. Objective Extrinsic Test (Overlap of Concrete Elements) 6 As noted above, “[t]he extrinsic test requires a three-step analysis: (1) the plaintiff 7 identifies similarities between the copyrighted work and the accused work; (2) of those 8 similarities, the court disregards any that are based on unprotectable material or authorized 9 use; and (3) the court must determine the scope of protection (‘thick’ or ‘thin’) to which 10 the remainder is entitled ‘as a whole.’” Corbello, 974 F.3d at 974 (citation omitted). 11 Here, the Ninth Circuit’s opinion remanding this action was clear that “[t]he issue in 12 this appeal is not whether Boldly! infringed [the Copyrighted Works], but whether Boldly! 13 was a fair use of [the Copyrighted Works].” 983 F.3d at 450 (footnote omitted). Although 14 the Ninth Circuit’s analysis did not directly address infringement, portions of the Ninth 15 Circuit’s opinion make clear that, extrinsically, Boldly! overlaps concrete elements in the 16 Copyrighted Works, particularly in its exacting replication of iconic illustrations from each 17 of the Copyrighted Works. 18 In total, the Ninth Circuit noted that “[ComicMix] copied ‘14 of Go!’s 24 pages,’ 19 close to 60% of the book, and significant ‘illustrations from Grinch and two stories in 20 Sneetches,’” rendering ComicMix’s copying “considerable.” Id. at 456. The Ninth Circuit 21 noted that, “[c]rucially, ComicMix did not merely take a set of unprotectable visual units, 22 a shape here and a color patch there.” Id. (footnote omitted). Rather, “[f]or each of the 23 highly imaginative illustrations copied by ComicMix, it replicated, as much and as closely 24 as possible . . . , the exact composition, the particular arrangements of visual components, 25 and the swatches of well-known illustrations.” Id. 26 For example, with regard to Boldly!’s depiction of “Grinch’s iconic finale scene,” 27 the Ninth Circuit noted that “ComicMix captured the placements and poses of the 28 /// 19 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8007 Page 20 of 24 1 characters, as well as every red hatch mark arching over the handholding characters,” 2 simply “plugg[ing] in the Star Trek characters.” Id. at 454. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Id. Likewise, “ComicMix copied the exact composition of the famous ‘waiting place’ in 11 Go!, down to the placements of the couch and the fishing spot,” simply “add[ing] Star Trek 12 characters who line up, sit on the couch, and fish exactly like the waiting place visitors they 13 replaced.” Id. 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Id. at 455. The Ninth Circuit noted that Boldly! also “replicated the overall composition 22 and placement of the shapes, colors and detailed linework” of the following illustration 23 from Go!: 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 20 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8008 Page 21 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Id. at 457. Similarly, “ComicMix also took the overall composition of [the following] 10 Seuss illustration [from Go!]—the placement of the tree, the hills, and the white space 11 surrounding these elements,” even giving “[t]he tress in both versions . . . the same exact 12 number, bends, and lengths of branches, with the same branch in both versions hoisting a 13 dangling figure”: 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Id. 22 As to Sneetches, the Ninth Circuit noted that one of Boldly!’s illustrations “copie[s] 23 a scene . . . down to the exact shape of the sandy hills in the background and the placement 24 of footprints that collide in the middle of the page. Seussian characters were replaced with 25 Spocks playing chess, making sure they ‘ha[d] similar poses’ as the original, but all 26 ComicMix really added was ‘the background of a weird basketball court.’” Id. at 455. 27 /// 28 /// 21 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8009 Page 22 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Id. Further, the Ninth Circuit noted that the plot, character, and moral of Sneetches “center 9 on a highly imaginative and intricately drawn machine that can take the star-shaped status 10 symbol on and off the bellies of the Sneetches,” with “[d]ifferent iterations of the machine, 11 the heart of Sneetches, appear[ing] in ten out of twenty-two pages of the book.” Id. at 457 12 (citation omitted). The Ninth Circuit concluded that, in “repurpos[ing]” the machine from 13 Sneetches “painstakingly,” “ComicMix took this ‘highly expressive core’ of Sneetches.” 14 Id. And not only was Boldly!’s representation of the machines “identical,” id. at 457–58, 15 ComicMix also “took ‘the poses that the Sneetches are in’ so that ‘[t]he poses of 16 commander Scott and the Enterprise crew getting into the machine are similar.’ Boldly 17 also captured the particular ‘crosshatch’ in how Dr. Seuss rendered the machine, the ‘puffs 18 of smoke coming out of the machine,’ and the ‘entire layout.’” Id. at 458. 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Id. 28 /// 22 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8010 Page 23 of 24 1 Accordingly, Seuss, and the Ninth Circuit, clearly have identified similarities 2 between each Copyrighted Work and Boldly! based on protectable material. Further, the 3 scope of protection to which the Copyrighted Works, all of which are illustrated books, are 4 entitled is broad. See, e.g., Fleener v. Trinity Broad. Network, 203 F. Supp. 2d 1142, 1149 5 (C.D. Cal. 2001) (“Capable of infinite expression, [books] are accorded ‘thick’ copyright 6 protection.”) (citation omitted); Mod. Dog Design Co. v. Target Corp., No. C11-1816 TSZ, 7 2013 WL 12315516, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 23, 2013) (finding level of copyright 8 protection afforded to stylized “headshot” drawings of dogs broad); Kevin Barry Fine Art 9 Assocs. v. Ken Gangbar Studio, Inc., 391 F. Supp. 3d 959, 967 (N.D. Cal. 2019) (finding 10 copyright protection of three-dimensional wall sculpture broad where “‘there [wa]s a wide 11 range of expression for selecting, coordinating, and arranging’ the constituent elements”). 12 Accordingly, the Court finds that concrete, protectible elements of Seuss’s Copyrighted 13 Works entitled to broad protection overlap with Boldly!, thus satisfying the extrinsic test. 14 2. Subjective Intrinsic Test (Substantial Similarity: Total Concept & Feel) 15 As to the intrinsic test, in light of the rarity of courts granting summary judgment in 16 favor of copyright holders on the issue of copying in this Circuit—see supra at 17–19— 17 and the lack of any authorities doing so with regard to subject matter comparable to that at 18 issue here—i.e., illustrated books of rhyming prose—the Court finds, on the record 19 presently before it and viewing the facts and evidence in the light most favorable to 20 ComicMix as the nonmovant, that Boldly! “[is] not so similar to the protected [works] that 21 no triable issue exists with respect to whether the total concept and feel of the works are 22 substantially similar. Therefore, the issue of intrinsic similarity must be left for the jury.” 23 HIT Ent., Inc. v. Nat’l Disc. Costume Co., 552 F. Supp. 2d 1099, 1107 (S.D. Cal. 2008). 24 Accordingly, the Court DENIES Seuss’s Motion for Summary Judgment. 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 23 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS) Case 3:16-cv-02779-JLS-BGS Document 187 Filed 08/09/21 PageID.8011 Page 24 of 24 1 In light of the foregoing, the Court finds it unnecessary to rule at this time on the 2 ComicMix’s de minimis use argument. 2 See MSJ Opp’n at 6. Similarly, because the Court 3 cannot decide the issue of liability for copyright infringement as a matter of law, the Court 4 declines to address the issue of willfulness, see, e.g., Classical Silk, Inc. v. Dolan Grp., 5 Inc., No. CV1409224ABMRWX, 2016 WL 7638113, at *11 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 2016) 6 (citations omitted) (declining to address issue of willfulness on summary judgment where 7 issues of fact precluded summary judgment of infringement), or reach the matter of 8 damages. 9 CONCLUSION 10 For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES ComicMix’s Motion for 11 Reconsideration (ECF No. 177) and DENIES Plaintiff’s Renewed Motion for Summary 12 Judgment (ECF No. 176). 13 14 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: August 9, 2021 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 “The Ninth Circuit has been unclear about whether the de minimis use doctrine serves as an affirmative defense under the Copyright Act’s fair use exceptions or whether the doctrine merely highlights plaintiffs’ obligation to show that ‘the use must be significant enough to constitute infringement.’” Brocade Commc’ns Sys., Inc. v. A10 Networks, Inc., No. C 10-3428 PSG, 2013 WL 831528, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 10, 2013). The Ninth Circuit has stated, for instance, that “[t]o say that a use is de minimis because no audience would recognize the appropriation is thus to say that the use is not sufficiently significant” to meet the “substantial similarity” requirement for infringement. Newton v. Diamond, 388 F.3d 1189, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). Either way, “the de minimis use doctrine is either subsumed into the affirmative defense of fair use or into negating Plaintiff’s prima facie case of copyright infringement.” Amini Innovation Corp. v. McFerran Home Furnishings Inc., No. CV 13-6496 RSWL SSX, 2014 WL 360048, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2014). If the former, the issue of fair use is no longer before the Court in light of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and the de minimis use defense is therefore also foreclosed. If the latter, the matter would appear to still be in play, but subsumed in the “substantial similarity” analysis supra. 24 16-CV-2779 JLS (BGS)

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