But it’s positively nerve-wracking reading the commentary of someone like Evan Brown! 😉
UPDATE: All the below is still very relevant, very important and very significant — except as to the final judgment, which has been vacated by consent and replaced with this Agreed Injunction and Order.
My client S&L Vitamins and I just suffered a devastating loss in its Eastern District of New York litigation against Australian Gold (now owned by a holding company called New Sunshine, LLC) after a five-day jury trial on claims by AG for tortious interference with contract and trademark infringement. I posted both sides’ trial briefs here. The jury instructions in the Australian Gold case are here. I will post more documents later.
Before sharing the verdict and recounting some extraordinary highlights of the trial, here’s some background. I am focusing on the contrast between this outcome and the mirror-image rulings on virtually identical operative facts in the Designer Skin case, discussed below, also involving my client — not because it must be the case that the court in Designer Skin was right and the court in Australian Gold was wrong, but to point out the utter inconsistency of these rulings and the impossibility of doing business in such a legal environment: Read More…
Not that the plaintiffs in the Designer Skin case didn’t get an injunction: They did (here it is); a narrow one utilizing proposed language by defendants explicitly permitting S&L to use its own photographs of Designer Skin merchandise on its website (see the prior post). But the Court ruled that they were not entitled to it merely by virtue of proving copyright infringement. Here’s an excerpt from the opinion, discussing the point:
The parties dispute the law governing the issuance of a permanent injunction in a copyright-infringement case. Relying on MAI Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 520 (9th Cir. 1993), Designer Skin argues that “a permanent injunction [should] be granted in a copyright infringement case when liability has been established and there is a threat of continuing violations.” Conversely, S & L Vitamins argues that the MAI rule has been overruled by the recent Supreme Court opinion in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388 (2006), and that the traditional four-factor test reaffirmed by eBay applies.
MAI’s general rule may accurately describe the result of applying the four-factor test to a copyright-infringement case in which liability has been established and there is a threat of continuing violations. Nevertheless, as Judge Wilson persuasively demonstrated in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 518 F. Supp. 2d 1197, 1209-10 (C.D. Cal. 2007), this general rule, as a rule, is clearly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay. Thus, for the reasons given by Judge White in Grokster, Designer Skin’s reliance on this pre-eBay rule is unavailing, and the Court will apply the traditional four-factor test. . . .
This is an important holding, making the District of Arizona among the handful of earliest courts to apply the rule of eBay to copyright infringement. After the jump, you can see how the court did apply it to one particular factor of interest, the need for a plaintiff seeking an injunction to prove irreparable harm. The court agreed with S&L that past infringement does not lead to a presumption of future infringement. Unfortunately, to our client’s (nominal) detriment, and despite our argument that, seeing as how Designer Skin enunciated no coherent description of harm it suffered by the infringement — and that, in fact, it probably benefited from it — an injunction should not issue, the court found that there was irreparable harm, for reasons best expressed in its own words. Read More…
Unfortunately for future defendants in the position of our client, Internet retailer S&L, U.S. District Judge James Teilborg’s decision from the bench in the District of Arizona dismissing the damages claims of suntan lotion manufacturer Designer Skin will not be officially published, being an oral opinion. Well, it will not be published unless and until it is quoted and affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, which a Designer Skin lawyer has promised will happen soon — though not exactly in those words. (Earlier post here.)
Fortunately we can mitigate some of the sting of the lack of officially published precedent, for now, and on our electronic mimeograph machine “publish” that opinion. The ruling is below; an example of the subject “electronic renderings” is at left; the transcript of the entire colloquy, including the striking of the would-be “damages” testimony of the company’s president, Beth Romero, and the argument of counsel can be downloaded here.
Disclosure: Neither counsel nor court had prepared particularly thoroughly for these oral motions or the ruling from the bench, which came up earlier in the proceedings than had been anticipated for reasons we will discuss next week. Therefore, in contrast to a situation where one can read each side’s thoroughly researched and argued written briefs and then a meticulously sourced judicial opinion, the oratorical edges in the transcript linked to above as well as the opinion also set forth below may appear somewhat rough all around. Be kind to all of us as you consider them.
The Court has, obviously, heard the evidence and heard the arguments of counsel and I have previously granted the motion to strike certain of the damage evidence from Miss Romero and set forth my reasons why. The Court has now granted the unopposed motion to dismiss the claim for statutory damages. I now grant the Rule 50 motion with respect to actual damages on the bases that there has been no showing of actual damages suffered as a result of the alleged copyright infringement.
As I pointed out earlier, there has been a witting or unwitting conflation between the alleged lifting of the electronic image from Designer’s website and pasting it on the S & L website, and yet we’ve heard virtually all the evidence, in fact, I think it’s fair to say all the so-called damage evidence, directed at product. In other words, the difference here is between the alleged copyright infringement in connection with the image and the product distribution issues.
It is clear that the beef, if you may, on the part of the plaintiffs is the selling of product by S & L, and we’ve heard evidence in terms of how much money Designer has spent in their product development, how much they’ve spent in their product image, the money they’ve spent in their diversion program, and it would appear that is all directed at seeking out product distributors such as S & L.
But even if one could assume that somehow it is to seek out and take action against a copyright infringement of its images, there is no basis for this jury or any reasonable jury to attempt to connect how much of those expenditures are connected to the images themselves as opposed to the product distribution issues. Read More…
Here’s S&L Vitamin’s Trial Brief for the trial scheduled for next week in the above-entitled cause. (Or you can read it at the bottom of the post). We pick a jury on Monday, and after a day “off” for stuff I don’t even want to mention, opening statements are Wednesday morning.
Oh, all right. Here’s Australian Gold’s trial brief. I’m sure our distinguished adversaries are at least as proud of this work product as we are of ours.
I will not comment on the prospect of this trial, of course, at least not at this juncture.
But others have, more or less. And now, you can too!
We reported earlier on a related case in this area implicating the use of trademarks to sell merchandise online via “unauthorized distributors.” A new decision in this area was issued yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. We represented the defendants and, again, got key help from David Marc Nieporent. Excerpt:
In contrast to the deceptive conduct that forms the basis of a finding of initial interest confusion, S & L Vitamins uses Designer Skin’s marks to truthfully inform internet searchers where they can find Designer Skin’s products. Rather than deceive customers into visiting their websites, this use truthfully informs customers of the contents of those sites. Indeed, in practical effect S & L Vitamins invites Designer Skin’s customers to purchase Designer Skin’s products. The fact that these customers will have the opportunity to purchase competing products when they arrive at S & L Vitamins’ sites is irrelevant. The customers searching for Designer Skin’s products find exactly what they are looking for when they arrive at these sites. S & L Vitamins is not deceiving consumers in any way. Thus, its use of the marks does not cause initial interest confusion./fn7
The Court recognizes that this holding is at odds with the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Australian Gold, Inc. v. Hatfield, 436 F.3d 1228 (10th Cir. 2006). There, under facts virtually identical to those in this case, the Tenth Circuit held that the defendant’s use of the trademarks caused initial interest confusion because it “used the goodwill associated with Plaintiffs’ trademarks in such a way that consumers might be lured to the lotions from Plaintiffs’ competitors.” Id. at 1239. With all due respect to the Tenth Circuit, this Court does not find Hatfield persuasive. In this Court’s view, there is a meaningful distinction between (1) using a mark to attract potential customers to a website that only offers products of the mark holder’s competitors and (2) using a mark to attract potential customers to a website that offers the mark holder’s genuine products as well as the products of competitors. As discussed above, in the latter situation no “bait and switch” occurs.
In sum, S & L Vitamins’ use of Designer Skin’s trademarks to accurately describe the contents of its websites does not cause initial interest confusion.
/fn7 If it were otherwise, if this guileless, informative use of trademarks in metatags and as search-engine keywords constitutes initial interest confusion, then trademark law would be (to the extent it is not already) in the unenviable position of stymying access to the world of goods and services lawfully available on the internet. Unless it is accurately “mapped,” the internet is just a vast expanse of uncharted (virtual) territory. . . .
There’s more. The decision is here. Reconsider these words: “if this guileless, informative use of trademarks in metatags and as search-engine keywords constitutes initial interest confusion, then trademark law would be (to the extent it is not already) in the unenviable position of stymying access to the world of goods and services lawfully available on the internet.”
The idea of trademarks is, of course, to make goods and services identifiable, findable — to enhance commerce. Imagine having to explain why forbidding their accurate use is not only bad trademark law, but antithetical to the entire concept of a trademark! Yet that is exactly what defendants in cases such as these have to do, at considerable expense. Most just fold up their tents and go home instead.
UPDATE: Comment from Greg Beck, Bill Patry (on the copyright piece of the decision) and Rebecca Tushnet (who addresses the curious retention of the state “unfair competition” claim based solely on copyright).
The outcome of this case will be used as a precedent when deciding others and will bolster the argument that use of keywords in metatags and bidding on trademarked [sic] terms for search purposes is a legitimate practice. Fairly often, plaintiffs are more concerned about control of channels and control of competition than they are about trademark infringement.