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A Quick Guide to Essential Copyright and Trademark Cases



Understanding the legal principles behind copyright and trademark law can be a daunting task. With so many cases of precedent, it’s hard to keep track of which ones are most relevant. This blog post gives a summary of some essential cases in copyright and trademark law, providing an overview for attorneys, law students, copyright holders, trademark owners, and anyone else looking to understand the most important legal precedents in these areas.


Copyright Infringement Cases


Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003)

This Supreme Court case involved a challenge to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 that extended copyrights from 50 years after the death of an author to 70 years after their death. The court held that Congress' decision did not violate any constitutional restrictions on exclusive rights granted by copyright and affirmed the extension of copyright terms as constitutional.


Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons (2013)

This Supreme Court case centered around an individual who imported copyrighted foreign editions of textbooks into the United States without permission from the publisher. The court held that the “first-sale doctrine” applies to foreign copies lawfully made under U.S. Copyright Law, meaning that once a lawful copy has been sold or otherwise transferred, its owner is free to resell it without permission from the original copyright holder.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc v Grokster Ltd. (2005)


In this Supreme Court case, MGM sued file sharing companies such as Grokster because they were accused of encouraging users to illegally download copyrighted material by providing software that allowed them to do so easily and quickly. The court found Grokster liable for inducing copyright infringement because they had actively encouraged users to share copyrighted material without permission from the original creators and had not taken sufficient steps to prevent illegal downloads from occurring on their platform.


Oracle v. Google (2017)


In this case, Oracle sued Google for using 37 Java API packages without permission in its Android operating system. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that while Google had copied elements from Oracle’s programming language, it had not infringed upon Oracle’s copyright because it did not copy any expressive content—i.e., code or instructions—but rather replicated a functional interface that served a specific purpose.


Perfect 10 v. Amazon & Google (2007)


Perfect 10 sued both companies for displaying thumbnail images of their copyrighted works without permission on their search engines and websites. The court held that although thumbnail images are small copies of larger works which are protected by copyright, they also serve a specific purpose—to help users identify images—which makes them exempt from protection under fair use doctrine as long as they do not replace the original work or disrupt its marketability.


Trademark Infringement Cases


Dastar Corp v Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (2003)


This Supreme Court case is one of the most influential decisions on trademark infringement in recent years. In this case, Dastar was accused of infringing upon Twentieth Century Fox’s trademark by repackaging and reselling copies of films previously produced by Fox without giving credit to Fox or using its trademarks to advertise the films’ origin or ownership. The court held that while Dastar had infringed upon Fox’s copyrights by repackaging the films without permission, it had not violated any trademarks since Fox's marks were not used to indicate origin or ownership in Dastar's packaging materials.


Etsy v H&M (2018)


This case involved Etsy, Inc., creators of online marketplaces where small business owners could sell their products, and H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, who released apparel items featuring designs created by Etsy users without permission from Etsy or its users. In this case, Etsy argued that H&M had violated its trademarks by infringing on its copyright protections as well as engaging in false advertising practices by making false representations about affiliations with Etsy when selling these products online. The court found in favor of Etsy, awarding them $3 million in damages for lost profits due to H&M's infringement on their intellectual property rights as well as false advertising practices. This case demonstrates just how seriously courts take violations of copyright laws when it comes to protecting intellectual property rights owned by companies like Etsy.


Mattel Inc v MCA Records Inc. (2002)


This case involved Mattel's iconic Barbie doll and MCA Records' rap group "The Beastie Boys." In this case, Mattel sued MCA for infringing on its trademark rights by releasing an album titled "Licensed To Ill" which featured artwork depicting Barbie dolls engaged in activities such as drinking alcohol and taking drugs—activities not typically associated with Barbie dolls—without Mattel's permission or consent. After initially being dismissed by lower courts, Mattel eventually won its case at the Ninth Circuit Court level which found that MCA had indeed infringed on Mattel’s trademarks by using its Barbie dolls without permission or consent from Mattel itself. This ruling established an important precedent regarding how far companies must go to protect their trademarks from unauthorized uses by third parties such as MCA Records in this case did with their Beastie Boys album art featuring Barbie dolls without authorization from Mattel itself.


Wal-Mart Stores v. Samara Brothers Inc. (2000)


This case is often cited as one of the key rulings in determining when a mark is deemed “famous” enough to receive additional protection under trademark law. In this case, Wal-Mart sued Samara Brothers Inc., a clothing company that had used Wal-Mart's “Rollback” mark on its clothing line without permission from Wal-Mart. The court ruled that because Wal-Mart's Rollback mark was well known among consumers, Samara Brothers' use of it constituted infringement on Wal-Mart's rights as a trademark holder and awarded damages accordingly. This ruling established an important precedent for determining what constitutes a famous mark that can receive additional protection under federal law.


These cases provide an example of just some of the landmark rulings in both copyright and trademark law over recent decades that have set legal precedents for how various disputes should be handled in similar situations going forward within U.S courts. It is important for those involved with copyrights or trademarks—whether they be lawyers, students or owners—to understand these cases so they can best protect their interests within American jurisprudence. Understanding these landmark rulings is key if one hopes to succeed in making any claims based upon copyrights or trademarks in today's modern world.


If you have copyright or trademark related questions, or would like to register your copyright or trademark, contact Curington Law, LLC at (312) 766-6671 or online.




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