Morris v. Young, No. 12-cv-00687 (C.D. Cal. filed 1/28/2013) [Doc. 29].
Plaintiff sued defendant seeking damages for copyright infringement and an injunction enjoining defendant from further infringement of Plaintiff's photograph of the musicians Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten of the punk rock bank, the Sex Pistols. Sometime in the mid-2000s, defendant created a series of works based on images of the Sex Pistols that he found on the Internet. None of the images defendant used in this series contained copyright notices, and defendant therefore believed they were in the public domain. Among the unmarked images defendant found on the Internet was the subject photograph. Defendant used the image of the Subject Photograph he found on the Internet to create several works that are the subject of this case. Prior to the initiation of this lawsuit, Young Defendant earned a total of $8,940 from sales of the accused works.
First, the Court found that plaintiff had established ownership of a valid copyright in the photograph. Next, the Court focused on actionable copying. Plaintiff can establish copying either by direct evidence of copying or by showing that defendant (1) had access to the work and (2) that the two works are substantially similar in idea and expression. It was undisputed that defendant found an image of the Subject Photograph on the Internet and copied it to make the Accused Works. "Accordingly, the Court need not rely on evidence of access and substantial similarity to determine whether a copying took place because the undisputed evidence shows that Young copied the Subject Photograph."
Next, the Court underwent a "fair use" analysis. First, the commercial nature of the use weighed against a finding of fair use. Additionally, the Court found that defendant's work added only marginal artistic innovation to the photograph to change the aesthetic expression of the work. Moreover, it did not appear that defendant intended any distinct purpose or message when creating the works. The use was, thus, not transformative. Second, the court found that the nature of the copyrighted work was creative and thus weighed against a finding of fair use. Third, the Court considered whether the amount of the work used was reasonable in relation to the purpose of the copying; defendant used most or all of the subject photograph to create his works and this weighed against fair use. Finally, the Court considered the effect of the use on the potential market or value of the copyrighted work.
Accordingly, the court granted Plaintiff summary judgment on one of the works. However, the Court found questions of fact on the fair use defense for another of the works.