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18.5 Cases

Fair Use in Copyright

Elvis Presley Enterprises et al. v. Passport Video et al.

349 F.3d 622 (9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2003)

TALLMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

Plaintiffs are a group of companies and individuals holding copyrights in various materials relating to Elvis Presley. For example, plaintiff SOFA Entertainment, Inc., is the registered owner of several Elvis appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Plaintiff Promenade Trust owns the copyright to two television specials featuring Elvis: The Elvis 1968 Comeback Special and Elvis Aloha from Hawaii.…Many Plaintiffs are in the business of licensing their copyrights. For example, SOFA Entertainment charges $10,000 per minute for use of Elvis’ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Passport Entertainment and its related entities (collectively “Passport”) produced and sold The Definitive Elvis, a 16-hour video documentary about the life of Elvis Presley. The Definitive Elvis sold for $99 at retail. Plaintiffs allege that thousands of copies were sent to retail outlets and other distributors. On its box, The Definitive Elvis describes itself as an all-encompassing, in-depth look at the life and career of a man whose popularity is unrivaled in the history of show business and who continues to attract millions of new fans each year.…

The Definitive Elvis uses Plaintiffs’ copyrighted materials in a variety of ways. With the video footage, the documentary often uses shots of Elvis appearing on television while a narrator or interviewee talks over the film. These clips range from only a few seconds in length to portions running as long as 30 seconds. In some instances, the clips are the subject of audio commentary, while in other instances they would more properly be characterized as video “filler” because the commentator is discussing a subject different from or more general than Elvis’ performance on a particular television show. But also significant is the frequency with which the copyrighted video footage is used. The Definitive Elvis employs these clips, in many instances, repeatedly. In total, at least 5% to 10% of The Definitive Elvis uses Plaintiffs’ copyrighted materials.

Use of the video footage, however, is not limited to brief clips.…Thirty-five percent of his appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show is replayed, as well as three minutes from The 1968 Comeback Special.

* * *

Plaintiffs sued Passport for copyright infringement.…Passport, however, asserts that its use of the copyrighted materials was “fair use” under 17 U.S.C. § 107. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction, which was granted by the district court after a hearing. The district court found that Passport’s use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted materials was likely not fair use. The court enjoined Passport from selling or distributing The Definitive Elvis. Passport timely appeals.

* * *

We first address the purpose and character of Passport’s use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted materials. Although not controlling, the fact that a new use is commercial as opposed to non-profit weighs against a finding of fair use. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 562, 85 L. Ed. 2d 588, 105 S.Ct. 2218 (1985). And the degree to which the new user exploits the copyright for commercial gain—as opposed to incidental use as part of a commercial enterprise—affects the weight we afford commercial nature as a factor. More importantly for the first fair-use factor, however, is the “transformative” nature of the new work. Specifically, we ask “whether the new work…merely supersedes the objects of the original creation, or instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.…” The more transformative a new work, the less significant other inquiries, such as commercialism, become.

* * *

The district court below found that the purpose and character of The Definitive Elvis will likely weigh against a finding of fair use. We cannot say, based on this record, that the district court abused its discretion.

First, Passport’s use, while a biography, is clearly commercial in nature. But more significantly, Passport seeks to profit directly from the copyrights it uses without a license. One of the most salient selling points on the box of The Definitive Elvis is that “Every Film and Television Appearance is represented.” Passport is not advertising a scholarly critique or historical analysis, but instead seeks to profit at least in part from the inherent entertainment value of Elvis’ appearances on such shows as The Steve Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The 1968 Comeback Special. Passport’s claim that this is scholarly research containing biographical comments on the life of Elvis is not dispositive of the fair use inquiry.

Second, Passport’s use of Plaintiffs’ copyrights is not consistently transformative. True, Passport’s use of many of the television clips is transformative because the clips play for only a few seconds and are used for reference purposes while a narrator talks over them or interviewees explain their context in Elvis’ career. But voice-overs do not necessarily transform a work.…

It would be impossible to produce a biography of Elvis without showing some of his most famous television appearances for reference purposes. But some of the clips are played without much interruption, if any. The purpose of showing these clips likely goes beyond merely making a reference for a biography, but instead serves the same intrinsic entertainment value that is protected by Plaintiffs’ copyrights.

* * *

The third factor is the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. This factor evaluates both the quantity of the work taken and the quality and importance of the portion taken. Regarding the quantity, copying “may not be excused merely because it is insubstantial with respect to the infringing work.” Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 565 (emphasis in original). But if the amount used is substantial with respect to the infringing work, it is evidence of the value of the copy-righted work.

Passport’s use of clips from television appearances, although in most cases of short duration, were repeated numerous times throughout the tapes. While using a small number of clips to reference an event for biographical purposes seems fair, using a clip over and over will likely no longer serve a biographical purpose. Additionally, some of the clips were not short in length. Passport’s use of Elvis’ appearance on The Steve Allen Show plays for over a minute and many more clips play for more than just a few seconds.

Additionally, although the clips are relatively short when compared to the entire shows that are copyrighted, they are in many instances the heart of the work. What makes these copyrighted works valuable is Elvis’ appearance on the shows, in many cases singing the most familiar passages of his most popular songs. Plaintiffs are in the business of licensing these copyrights. Taking key portions extracts the most valuable part of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works. With respect to the photographs, the entire picture is often used. The music, admittedly, is usually played only for a few seconds.

* * *

The last, and “undoubtedly the single most important” of all the factors, is the effect the use will have on the potential market for and value of the copyrighted works. Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 566. We must “consider not only the extent of market harm caused by the particular actions of the alleged infringer, but also whether unrestricted and widespread conduct of the sort engaged in by the defendant…would result in a substantially adverse impact on the potential market for the original.” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 590. The more transformative the new work, the less likely the new work’s use of copyrighted materials will affect the market for the materials. Finally, if the purpose of the new work is commercial in nature, “the likelihood [of market harm] may be presumed.” A&M Records, 239 F.3d at 1016 (quoting Sony, 464 U.S. at 451).

The district court found that Passport’s use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted materials likely does affect the market for those materials. This conclusion was not clearly erroneous.

First, Passport’s use is commercial in nature, and thus we can assume market harm. Second, Passport has expressly advertised that The Definitive Elvis contains the television appearances for which Plaintiffs normally charge a licensing fee. If this type of use became wide-spread, it would likely undermine the market for selling Plaintiffs’ copyrighted material. This conclusion, however, does not apply to the music and still photographs. It seems unlikely that someone in the market for these materials would purchase The Definitive Elvis instead of a properly licensed product. Third, Passport’s use of the television appearances was, in some instances, not transformative, and therefore these uses are likely to affect the market because they serve the same purpose as Plaintiffs’ original works.

* * *

We emphasize that our holding today is not intended to express how we would rule were we examining the case ab initio as district judges. Instead, we confine our review to whether the district court abused its discretion when it weighed the four statutory fair-use factors together and determined that Plaintiffs would likely succeed on the merits. Although we might view this case as closer than the district court saw it, we hold there was no abuse of discretion in the court’s decision to grant Plaintiffs’ requested relief.

AFFIRMED.

Case Questions

  1. How would you weigh the four factors in this case? If the trial court had found fair use, would the appeals court have overturned its ruling?
  2. Why do you think that the fourth factor is especially important?
  3. What is the significance of the discussion on “transformative” aspects of the defendant’s product?

Trademark Infringement and Dilution

Playboy Enterprises v. Welles

279 F.3d 796 (9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2001)

T. G. NELSON, Circuit Judge:

Terri Welles was on the cover of Playboy in 1981 and was chosen to be the Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1981. Her use of the title “Playboy Playmate of the Year 1981,” and her use of other trademarked terms on her website are at issue in this suit. During the relevant time period, Welles’ website offered information about and free photos of Welles, advertised photos for sale, advertised memberships in her photo club, and promoted her services as a spokesperson. A biographical section described Welles’ selection as Playmate of the Year in 1981 and her years modeling for PEI. The site included a disclaimer that read as follows: “This site is neither endorsed, nor sponsored, nor affiliated with Playboy Enterprises, Inc. PLAYBOY tm PLAYMATE OF THE YEAR tm AND PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH tm are registered trademarks of Playboy Enterprises, Inc.”

Wells used (1) the terms “Playboy ”and “Playmate” in the metatags of the website; (2) the phrase “Playmate of the Year 1981” on the masthead of the website; (3) the phrases “Playboy Playmate of the Year 1981” and “Playmate of the Year 1981” on various banner ads, which may be transferred to other websites; and (4) the repeated use of the abbreviation “PMOY ’81” as the watermark on the pages of the website. PEI claimed that these uses of its marks constituted trademark infringement, dilution, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. The district court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. PEI appeals the grant of summary judgment on its infringement and dilution claims. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

A. Trademark Infringement

Except for the use of PEI’s protected terms in the wallpaper of Welles’ website, we conclude that Welles’ uses of PEI’s trademarks are permissible, nominative uses. They imply no current sponsorship or endorsement by PEI. Instead, they serve to identify Welles as a past PEI “Playmate of the Year.”

We articulated the test for a permissible, nominative use in New Kids On The Block v. New America Publishing, Inc. The band, New Kids On The Block, claimed trademark infringement arising from the use of their trademarked name by several newspapers. The newspapers had conducted polls asking which member of the band New Kids On The Block was the best and most popular. The papers’ use of the trademarked term did not fall within the traditional fair use doctrine. Unlike a traditional fair use scenario, the defendant newspaper was using the trademarked term to describe not its own product, but the plaintiff’s. Thus, the factors used to evaluate fair use were inapplicable. The use was nonetheless permissible, we concluded, based on its nominative nature.

We adopted the following test for nominative use:

First, the product or service in question must be one not readily identifiable without use of the trademark; second, only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service; and third, the user must do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.

We group the uses of PEI’s trademarked terms into three for the purpose of applying the test for nominative use.

1. Headlines and banner advertisements.

. . .

The district court properly identified Welles’ situation as one which must… be excepted. No descriptive substitute exists for PEI’s trademarks in this context.…Just as the newspapers in New Kids could only identify the band clearly by using its trademarked name, so can Welles only identify herself clearly by using PEI’s trademarked title.

The second part of the nominative use test requires that “only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service[.]” New Kids provided the following examples to explain this element: “[A] soft drink competitor would be entitled to compare its product to Coca-Cola or Coke, but would not be entitled to use Coca-Cola’s distinctive lettering.” Similarly, in a past case, an auto shop was allowed to use the trademarked term “Volkswagen” on a sign describing the cars it repaired, in part because the shop “did not use Volkswagen’s distinctive lettering style or color scheme, nor did he display the encircled ‘VW’ emblem.” Welles’ banner advertisements and headlines satisfy this element because they use only the trademarked words, not the font or symbols associated with the trademarks.

The third element requires that the user do “nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.” As to this element, we conclude that aside from the wallpaper, which we address separately, Welles does nothing in conjunction with her use of the marks to suggest sponsorship or endorsement by PEI. The marks are clearly used to describe the title she received from PEI in 1981, a title that helps describe who she is. It would be unreasonable to assume that the Chicago Bulls sponsored a website of Michael Jordan’s simply because his name appeared with the appellation “former Chicago Bull.” Similarly, in this case, it would be unreasonable to assume that PEI currently sponsors or endorses someone who describes herself as a “Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1981.” The designation of the year, in our case, serves the same function as the “former” in our example. It shows that any sponsorship or endorsement occurred in the past.

For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Welles’ use of PEI’s marks in her headlines and banner advertisements is a nominative use excepted from the law of trademark infringement.

2. Metatags

Welles includes the terms “playboy” and “playmate” in her metatags. Metatags describe the contents of a website using keywords. Some search engines search metatags to identify websites relevant to a search. Thus, when an internet searcher enters “playboy” or “playmate” into a search engine that uses metatags, the results will include Welles’ site. Because Welles’ metatags do not repeat the terms extensively, her site will not be at the top of the list of search results. Applying the three-factor test for nominative use, we conclude that the use of the trademarked terms in Welles’ metatags is nominative.

As we discussed above with regard to the headlines and banner advertisements, Welles has no practical way of describing herself without using trademarked terms. In the context of metatags, we conclude that she has no practical way of identifying the content of her website without referring to PEI’s trademarks.

. . .

Precluding their use would have the unwanted effect of hindering the free flow of information on the internet, something which is certainly not a goal of trademark law. Accordingly, the use of trademarked terms in the metatags meets the first part of the test for nominative use.…We conclude that the metatags satisfy the second and third elements of the test as well. The metatags use only so much of the marks as reasonably necessary and nothing is done in conjunction with them to suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder. We note that our decision might differ if the metatags listed the trademarked term so repeatedly that Welles’ site would regularly appear above PEI’s in searches for one of the trademarked terms.

3. Wallpaper/watermark.

The background, or wallpaper, of Welles’ site consists of the repeated abbreviation “PMOY ’81,” which stands for “Playmate of the Year 1981.” Welles’ name or likeness does not appear before or after “PMOY ’81.” The pattern created by the repeated abbreviation appears as the background of the various pages of the website. Accepting, for the purposes of this appeal, that the abbreviation “PMOY” is indeed entitled to protection, we conclude that the repeated, stylized use of this abbreviation fails the nominative use test.

The repeated depiction of “PMOY ‘81” is not necessary to describe Welles. “Playboy Playmate of the Year 1981” is quite adequate. Moreover, the term does not even appear to describe Welles—her name or likeness do not appear before or after each “PMOY ’81.” Because the use of the abbreviation fails the first prong of the nominative use test, we need not apply the next two prongs of the test.

Because the defense of nominative use fails here, and we have already determined that the doctrine of fair use does not apply, we remand to the district court. The court must determine whether trademark law protects the abbreviation “PMOY,” as used in the wallpaper.

B. Trademark Dilution [At this point, the court considers and rejects PEI’s claim for trademark dilution.]

Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to PEI’s claims for trademark infringement and trademark dilution, with the sole exception of the use of the abbreviation “PMOY.” We reverse as to the abbreviation and remand for consideration of whether it merits protection under either an infringement or a dilution theory.

Case Questions

  1. Do you agree with the court’s decision that there is no dilution here?
  2. If PMOY is not a registered trademark, why does the court discuss it?
  3. What does “nominative use” mean in the context of this case?
  4. In business terms, why would PEI even think that it was losing money, or could lose money, based on Welles’s use of its identifying marks?