A Blip in the Transmission: Part 2

The second factor, whether there is a serious threat of irreparable harm, was, comparatively speaking, much more easily considered. While there is no assumption of harm for copyright claims in the 10th Circuit, the nature of a copyright claim does tend to make it easier for plaintiffs to prove this factor. Aereo argued that any financial damage they might have done to the plaintiffs were essentially insignificant, but the court found that appeal wanting, noting that one of the purposes of copyright is ensuring the exclusive control of the copyright material, so that the owner can ensure that the content’s value is not tainted or diluted by unauthorized use, such as the creation of inferior quality copies, or interference in potential business relationships based on the content. As a result, the court felt that this factor also weighed in favor of granting the injunction.

The third and fourth factors only merited truncated discussion. The court first examined the balance of harms and, although noting that Aereo did face a loss of business should the injunction be entered, in all likelihood, their entire business model was based on copyright infringement.  The loss of such a business was not grounds to prevent a preliminary injunction from being entered. The court then examined the public interest, noting that the public’s interest was in seeing the law of copyrights upheld. Our next post will deal with the scope of injunction, the bond, and Aereo’s attempt to transfer venue.

 

A Blip in the Transmission: Part 1

When technology changes the law often struggles to keep up. For decades, television was ruled by broadcast channels, free of charge to anyone with a television and, because of technological limitation, local affiliates were often tied to a major national network. While that has changed drastically in the intervening years, the copyright laws of America have not matched this technological evolution, creating various areas of uncertainty where old laws do not fit snugly against newer ideas.

Aereo is a company that has developed a way to allow people, for a fee, to watch broadcast television on their computers. For obvious reasons, this service has drawn the ire of television broadcasters, leading to a number of suits in various district courts throughout the country. Because the old copyright law regarding this particular issue was conceived of in the 1970s, when household computers, let alone using such a device to watch television, was more speculative than anything else, the circuits have split on whether or not current copyright law forbids Aereo from providing these broadcast streams to their customers, and the case is due before the Supreme Court in its next term to resolve the issue once and for all.

In the meantime, however, the case against Aereo in Utah, where it began providing its service in July 2013, has been stayed pending the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, but a district court still felt it necessary to rule on whether the plaintiff would be granted a preliminary injunction in the interim.

The crux of the Aereo cases, both here and in other circuits, has been the interpretation of the “Transmit Clause” that gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to publicly perform or transmit a performance. The question is whether or not Aereo’s service constitutes a public transmission, and thus violates that copyright act. Aereo’s argument, which has been successful in the Massachusetts, as well as the 2nd Circuit, is that its services merely allows its customers to view the transmission on a private basis, and so does not constitute a public performance. The opposing argument, made by broadcast networks around the country, is that Aereo’s service, technologically advanced though it may be, is, in practical terms, little more than a public retransmission of copyrighted broadcasts, and a clear violation of the Copyright Act, a view endorsed by courts in D.C. and California.

The Utah court ultimately agreed with the latter position. First, it noted that the “Transmit Clause” was enacted in 1976 as a result of the first cable systems’ habit of retransmitting local broadcast networks on their cable systems without paying for the right to do so, with the understanding that the revised language would force cable companies to receive a license to continue to retransmit these copyrighted works, and the position of Aereo is essentially analogous to those early cable companies.

The court then dismissed what had been a compelling argument for Aereo in other jurisdictions, a complex attack that relied on using prior decisions to create a distinction between public and private retransmission and to then argue that based on the specific mode of transmission used by Aereo, each retransmission created a unique copy to a single user, and should therefore be considered a private retransmission, not covered under the Copyright Act. The Utah court was unwilling to make this leap, instead relying on legislative history and its interpretation of the statute to reject this distinction, explaining that, technological technicalities aside, Aereo’s service did likely constitute a violation of the Copyright Act and, as a result, the plaintiffs in this case had a likelihood of success on the merits, clearing the first hurdle for a preliminary injunction.

Next week we will consider the second, third and fourth factors related to whether or not the plaintiff was granted a preliminary injunction.

For more information on the services we offer visit pattersonlawfirm.com or call us at 312.223.1699.

 

The Stream Runs Downhill: Part 2

Last week’s post focused on the court’s rejection of Aereo’s motion to change venues. But that was all the good news that the Hearst Group would receive that day, as the court next denied its request for a preliminary injunction. As is mandated in these cases, the court looked through the four-part test for granting preliminary injunctions, and found that there were insufficient grounds to enjoin Aereo’s activities while the litigation was ongoing.

First, the court examined the likelihood of success on the merits, noting that, in the 1st Circuit, at least, this factor is the most important. At this point, the technological advancements of the past few years run headlong into the decades-old body of copyright law. The court first concedes that the 1st Circuit has never ruled whether the use of a DVR-like device infringes on the right of the copyright holder, more specifically, whether Aereo’s interception and conversion of the broadcast into a digital and recordable form infringes on the copyright holder’s exclusive right to control the public transmission of its works.

Lacking any direct precedent of its own, the court turned to the 2nd circuit, which had previously ruled that a DVR, in effect, created a personal recording of the broadcast, and then transmitted that personal copy to the viewer, meaning that it did not publicly re-transmit the broadcast, and so did not infringe on any copyright. Aereo, as the court noted, had already successfully defended its service in the 2nd circuit, and had won because the court found that its service was sufficiently similar to the earlier DVR case and that, therefore, no infringement had taken place. More specifically, that court had noted that Aereo only allowed viewers to view those digital copies that Aereo had specifically prepared for them at their request, and that each copy was unique.

In that decision, however, there had been a dissent, which argued that, due to advances in technology, it no longer made sense to determine whether a transmission was private by the nature of the copy, but instead whether or not the viewer saw what was, essentially, a public broadcast to begin with. They also noted that some district courts have appeared amenable to determining the nature of a broadcast by how it was originally transmitted rather than how it was ultimately received.

The court, however, found that attempting to use Hearst’s proffered interpretation would force an untenable construction of the Copyright Act, and so reverted to the 2nd Circuit’s ruling on the matter, finding that Hearst was not likely to prevail on its claim that Aereo had infringed on Hearst’s copyright through unauthorized retransmission.

The court next examined whether it was likely Hearst would prevail on a claim that Aereo had infringed on its copyright through unauthorized reproduction of Hearst’s broadcasts. The question here came down to a question of whether or not this type of copyright infringement could occur without volitional conduct by Aereo. As Aereo’s system automatically responds to user commands, Aereo itself lacks any sort of volitional conduct. According to Aereo’s argument, such a requirement is necessary in an infringement case, as otherwise innocent technology providers could be held liable for the wrongful acts of those using their products, such as a copy machine owner being held liable when a third party uses that machine to copy copyrighted material.

From its ruling, it is clear the court felt at least slightly uncomfortable with this aspect of the case, noting that the 1st Circuit has not yet ruled that volitional conduct is a necessary element, but other circuits have. The court ultimately decided that it was likely that some sort of volitional conduct element would be necessary in an infringement claim, but punted the issue, explaining that later discovery may change the contours of that particular claim, and it was a closer call than the unauthorized retransmission claim. That said, the court found that the likelihood of success on the merits was not high enough on this claim either to justify a preliminary injunction.

The court then quickly disposed of the final two claims made by Hearst on technical grounds. First, it claimed that, because Aereo was streaming the works rather than authorizing them for download, it is considered to be ‘performing’ rather than ‘distributing’ for the purposes of copyright law, and so cannot be found to have violated Hearst’s exclusive right to distribute its copyright works. Second, it ruled that although Aereo does convert its broadcasts into a different formats in order to allow it to be streamed, that act does not create a derivate work under the meaning of the Copyright Act, and so Hearst was also unlikely to prevail on a claim charging Aereo with infringing on Hearst’s exclusive right to create derivative works from its copyrighted material. In all, the court found that Hearst was unlikely to prevail on any of its claims on the merits, a crippling blow in its quest to gain a preliminary injunction.

 

Injunctions under the Commodity Exchange Act (part 2)

(Blog written by: Jay Lewis)

In Simmons, a Complaint for Injunctive Relief and a Motion for a Statutory Restraining Order were brought under Section 6c(a) of the Commodity Exchange Act (the “Act”), 7 U.S.C. §6c(a) (2006).  The Act allows U.S. district courts to grant ex parte restraining orders, to freeze assets, and prohibit any person from destroying records. (7 U.S.C. §13a-1 (2006)).  Under the Act, restraining orders may be issued whenever it appears that any person has engaged in a practice constituting a violation of the Act.  (Memorandum p 25, citing CFTC v Clothier, 788 F. Supp. 490, 492-3 (D. Kan. 1992)).  A prima facie case of illegality is sufficient under the Act eliminating the need for proof of irreparable injury or inadequacy of other remedies otherwise required in private actions seeking injunctions. (Memorandum p 27, citing NRLB v Aerovox Corp., 389 F. 2d 475, 477 (4th Cir. 1967). Additionally, a preliminary injunction pursuant to the Act may be granted without bond. (7 U.S.C. §13a-1(b) (2006)).

 

On February 11, 2011, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad signed an Order finding that:

·        The Court has jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter pursuant to Section 6c of the Act and venue is proper under 6c(e).

·        The Court found good cause to believe that the named Defendants engaged in acts that violated the Act.

·        The named Relief Defendants received assets as a result of Defendants’ acts and have been unjustly enriched.

·        Immediate and irreparable damage to the Court’s ability to grant effective final relief in the form of monetary redress will occur unless the Defendants and Relief Defendants are immediately restrained and enjoined.

·        The Court found good cause to freeze assets controlled by Defendants and Relief Defendants.

·        The Court found good case to prohibit Defendants from denying Commission representatives access to books and records.

·        The Court found good cause to order repatriation of assets controlled by Defendants and Relief Defendants.

·        The Court found good cause for expedited discovery.

·        The Court also weighed the equities and considered the Commission’s likelihood of success in its claims, and as a result, found that it is in the public’s interest to issue a restraining order.

 

As a result of the findings above, the Judge ordered the following:

·        The Defendants were ordered not to transfer, dissipate, or dispose of assets.

·        The Judge ordered any financial or brokerage institutions, business entity, or others controlling the Defendants’ assets to prohibit the Defendants from removing any such assets and to deny Defendants access to safe deposit boxes.

·        Judge Conrad also required businesses to provide expedited discovery to the CFTC in the form of account numbers, account balances, account dates, and safe deposit box numbers.

·        The Judge ordered Defendants to provide full accounting for all accounts inside and outside the United States within 10 days of the Order.

·        The Defendants are also ordered to transfer all assets from outside the United States to inside the United States.

·        The Judge ordered that any and all of the Defendants’ business records may not be destroyed.

·        CFTC is allowed to inspect and copy all of Defendants’ books and records.

·        CFTC is allowed to conduct expedited discovery- they may take depositions with only 5 days notice.

·        Pursuant to the Act, CFTC is not required to post a bond.

 

As of February 23, 2011, discovery in this case has been stayed pending the Keith F. Simmons criminal case.

 

Injunctions under the Commodity Exchange Act (part 1)

(Blog written by: Jay Lewis)

 

In United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) v. Simmons et. al., (Case Number 3:11-cv-00023 W.D.N.C.), CFTC filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction against a plethora of defendants including Keith F. Simmons and Black Diamond Capital Solutions, L.L.C. for their roles in an alleged Ponzi scheme.  The Complaint was filed on January 13, 2011.

 

CFTC alleges that starting in April 2007 until Simmons’ arrest in December 2009 $35 million was fraudulently solicited from more than 240 individuals and businesses. (Complaint, ¶ 2).  The Defendants in Simmons obtained investments with promises of remarkable returns using a forex trading system. (Complaint, ¶ 4).  Forex is short-hand for foreign exchange market, an over-the-counter market used to exchange one national currency for another.  The forex was created to assist corporations transacting business overseas to pay each other in their respective currencies, but is now dominated by speculators.  Mark Levinson, Guide to Financial Markets pp 14-36 (4th ed., The Economist 2006).

 

In Simmons, the Defendants persuaded investors they had developed an advanced computerized trading system created by a group of software developers.  (Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Support of its Motion for a Statutory Restraining Order, p 10).  They enticed investors with promotional materials claiming a track record of exceptional returns. (Memorandum p 11).  But according to the CFTC allegations no such system ever existed, and the Defendants never traded a dime of investors’ money in the forex market.  (Memorandum pp 9-16).  Instead, CFTC alleges the investments went to pay for the Defendants’ real estate purchases, cars and lavish trips. (Memorandum pp 14-15). 

 

However, once investors started demanding their returns on investment or attempted to withdraw principal, the whole system crumbles and the schemers are left making excuses.  CFTC alleges that starting in March of 2009 the Defendants created fanciful reasons as to why the investors were unable to receive any payments. (Complaint ¶¶ 8-9)  To keep investors placated, they altered existing bank statements by fraudulently multiplying actual assets ten-fold.  (Memorandum p 20).  CFTC alleges the Defendants claimed agencies froze Black Diamond’s accounts to conduct investigations, that banking restrictions limited the payouts, and that “a non-existent German liquidity provider by the name of Klaus” was planning to buy out Black Diamond.  (Complaint ¶ 9).  Allegedly these frauds were still perpetuated even as the Defendants failed to pay their own employees.  (Memorandum pp 18-24).  By December of 2009 it was obvious to the investors they had been scammed and the FBI arrested Keith F. Simmons for his role in the fraud.